Crystal Owney’s life could be a made-for-TV-movie, full of twists and turns, challenges and triumphs, but when you meet her, you’d never
guess it.

Crystal was raised by an older sibling until the age of 12. When her sister died of sickle cell anemia she and her brother lived in foster homes. She’d never had the chance to live with her birth mother. Then, at 15 years old, she was finally going to get the opportunity to live with her mother, or so she thought. The weekend that she was supposed to move in, her mother died. Crystal found herself back in the foster care system.

Instead of feeling sorry for herself, or becoming a victim of her circumstances, Crystal put all energies into school and extracurricular activities—excelling in both.

Today, Owney is a confident, polished, focused and mature twenty-something young woman.

She’s faced and overcome many obstacles, but this January, 2009 she’ll be the envy of many, when she attends the University Presidential Inaugural Conference (UPIC) and the President’s Inaugural Ball (regardless of who wins)!

On January 17-21, 2009, Crystal, an alumnus of the National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF), will travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the pageantry and ceremony of the Inauguration of the President and Vice President of the United States. She will witness, firsthand, the hallmark of democracy in action with the peaceful transition of power to the 44th President of the United States.

Inaugural scholars are given the opportunity to meet and interact with White House veterans, press secretaries, political powerhouses, Washington, D.C. insiders, presidential historians, policy makers, documentary film makers and other prominent and sought-after personalities and political experts who will directly participate in the conference.

To help make sure Crystal gets to Washington, D.C., arrives in style and doesn’t have to worry about any expenses, Lad Lake, a non-profit organization that provides ongoing assistance to Crystal, and co-workers at M & I Bank, are working to underwrite all of her expenses.

“We are proud of Crystal and this history-making opportunity that she has earned,” said Gary Erdmann, executive director of Lad Lake.

“Over the years, we’ve been able to help Crystal through our CONNECTIONS program, which is geared to help youth aging out of foster care. With our financial assistance, she’s been able to pursue her college degree, and she’s done very well. She’s a remarkable young lady. People are still talking about the amazing speech she gave at our scholarship dinner last year,” said Erdmann.

Crystal performed a vignette of Sofia, from “The Color Purple” at last year’s scholarship dinner. A graduate of the Milwaukee High School of the Arts, it’s no wonder she brought those in attendance to their feet! Now, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Crystal is majoring in business finance. Through the INROADS program, she has also worked as an intern at M & I Bank for more than a year.

Though she’s overcome and beat some seemingly insurmountable odds, Crystal is already a role model to others. She has several mentors, but they are quick to point out that they learn as much from her as she does from them.

One of her mentors, Michelle Barnes, who is an Assistant Vice President, Community Development Administrator at M & I Bank, saw Crystal’s performance at the Lad Lake Scholarship Dinner and was so impressed with her, that she called a co-worker, Stacey Jones, Vice President of Treasury Management Sales Manager, to find out more about her.

“I didn’t even know Crystal worked at M & I, but after hearing her, I went up and introduced myself to her after the Lad Lake Scholarship Dinner,” said Barnes.

“Then I called Stacey to find out more about her. Though, M & I has a formal mentoring program, my mentoring relationship with Crystal evolved informally. She was such a unique individual that I just had to know who she was, because I wanted to make sure she had every advantage that I could expose her to … she’s going places many of us will never have the opportunity to go, and I’m just glad to know that if I can’t do it, she can,” said Barnes.

Together, Barnes and Jones have taken Owney under their wings. They even took her shopping to make sure she is dressed for success.

“We had what we jokingly called a “Crystal Day,” said Jones. “We worked on the inside and outside to share information, ideas, tips about dressing for success, to help make sure she succeeds,” said Jones.

Jones and Barnes aren’t the only ones impressed with Crystal. Plans are getting underway to raise money for her trip to the inaugural ball.

“We don’t know exactly what we’re going to do, but we know we’re going to raise money to make sure she’s got her inaugural gown, and all the proper clothing and necessities she’ll need to have a good time,” said Jones.

Jones and Barnes plan to coordinate their resources with Lad Lake to give Crystal a proper send-off to Washington, D.C.

“She’s come a long way, and she’s going places. Our goal is to help her get there,” said Erdmann.

Crystal attributes some of her positive, can-do attitude to comments made by a workshop leader at a conference she attended. Those words really resonated with me, said Crystal. She said, ”Never let your successes go to your head, or your failures go to your heart.”

Those are words Crystal tries to live by. Obviously, she’s succeeding.

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