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Cristal DePietro finds fulfillment helping individuals and families in her position as the social services coordinator for Madison Youth & Family Services and enjoys working with young people as prevention coordinator with the Madison Alcohol and Drug Education Coalition. (Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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Zealous. Passionate. Dedicated. Even a little gutsy.
These are perhaps the best words to describe Cristal DePietro when she talks about her role as social services coordinator for Madison Youth & Family Services (MYFS) and her work with young people as prevention coordinator with the Madison Alcohol and Drug Education (MADE) Coalition.
Her interest and intensity could not have been a better fit for the job. As prevention coordinator, she sees her work with young people as her passion and life’s purpose; as social services coordinator, she values the opportunity to help Madison residents and families in need.
“I’m really proud of being able to have somebody walk in my office and then help them solve a problem, find a resource, see a light at the end of the tunnel, or just feel like they accomplished something that day that was weighing down on them,” she says.
“That’s the biggest success I can possibly have—whether it’s a young person or an adult. That is what I want to do every day, all day, for the rest of my life.”
She has been on the job for about seven months, and already, she realizes the magnitude of the need in town.
“The need in Madison is so incredibly great. And it’s something I did not anticipate coming in to the job,” she reveals.
“We joke [in the office] that my phone rings the most. And it’s true. There are some days when I have five clients scheduled and three walk in. And that’s in the course of four or five hours,” she says.
MYFS provides assistance that runs the gamut from renter’s rebates and energy assistance to Medicare forms and food stamps. The services include its backpack program, camp scholarships, and holiday baskets, the last of which is organized in conjunction with Madison Community Services.
“On any particular day, we see somebody coming in asking for assistance doing state documentation—whether it be food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare—just things that are done through the State of Connecticut. Sometimes we have people who come in here who need renter’s assistance. Sometimes we have people who come in here who just need support. I have many clients who come in and just need to talk out their situation—not necessarily in a clinical manner, (but) maybe their situation is difficult.”
She says that with the approaching winter, MYFS is ramping up its energy assistance program, which normally runs from August to April. Many of its clients must meet a financial eligibility requirement, “but we are always available to help anyone navigate the social service system in any way we can,” she adds.
She also notes that the increase has been steady with new families and individuals who need assistance, and the department is unsure what is causing the increase.
Her position at MYFS, she says, is a hybrid: Aside from the social services role, her job includes a prevention component as part of the MADE Coalition, through which she listens and works with young people to guide and help them avoid destructive behaviors. While a large portion of her responsibilities covers the social services side, she hopes to increase her work with young people and tap into some of her past successes working as a prevention coordinator in Haddam-Killingworth and Old Lyme before coming to Madison.
Cristal’s enthusiasm is palpable and her optimism contagious when she talks about working with young people.
“For me, every decision I make, everything I do—whether it be in social services or in prevention—is driven by the idea that the young people of today are our future and that if you believe in young people, they will certainly see that and take that opportunity and be the best that they can be,” she says.
Past Work Hazards
But as fulfilling as her current job is, some past positions were hazardous, to say the least. At 35, she has already traversed a career path that was arduous, if not downright perilous.
A graduate from Mitchell College with a degree in criminal justice, she has worked as a case manager at a Department of Corrections (DOC) halfway house and at a residence for individuals with serious mental health issues.
If working at a DOC halfway house sounds scary, that’s because it was, she says.
“I was petrified, because there were 61 male inmates and I was one of two” female staff members.
She adds that she was the only woman working on the second shift.
One incident made it apparent how dangerous her job was. A halfway house resident returned from his work duty and wrought havoc at the facility.
“He came in...and he started beating up his roommate,” Cristal recalls. “Once he beat up his roommate to the point where he thought he was dead, he came out of his room and started going after other people. I saw him coming down the hall covered in blood, so I shut my office door, locked it, went behind the other office door, locked it, and called 9-1-1.”
Understandably, she left shortly after the incident. But her next job as a case manager at a residence for patients with mental health issues brought its own dangers.
She recalls one episode when a man suffering from a mental crisis lunged at her. She was able to escape him only because she was quicker on her feet getting out the door.
But the desire to be of service kept her wanting to help those in need and provide person-to-person help.
When she landed the job at Haddam-Killingworth as prevention coordinator in 2016, she knew it was the role she wanted to fulfill.
“I got to work with kids, which was a new population for me,” she says. “I immediately fell in love with prevention work.”
Working on Plays
Her love for young people also keeps her involved at another venue: theater. Cristal spends at least 10 hours a week directing plays at the Madison Arts Barn. She says that her volunteer work keeps her grounded at her professional job.
She has directed at least three plays at the Madison Arts Barn: The Wizard of Oz, Shrek, and Into the Woods. The last is still in production and the children are currently in rehearsals. The play is scheduled to show from Friday, Dec. 13 to Sunday, Dec. 15.
She adds that her 13-year old daughter has also developed an interest in the theater and decided to be part of the play.
In both her volunteer and professional jobs, Cristal has pursued roles that allow her to work with young people or give her opportunities to help those in need.
“I just feel like every person has a purpose and a place in this world. And if you aren’t to that point yet, you have to keep going and help everyone you can in the process until you find exactly where you’re supposed to be in life.”
With her passion for guiding the youth and providing social services, she believes she has found her purpose.
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