Crystal W.

Crystal Ward was referred to the Azalea Project by doctors at Shands Jacksonville even before her son Zuric was born. Immediately she knew she had found what she was looking for.

“I came back to Azalea every day,” Crystal said. “Ms. DuPont took me in. The whole staff did.”

The Azalea Project is a special Healthy Start initiative that provides outreach, education and support services to high-risk women of childbearing age. It focuses on substance-involved families whose lifestyle increases their chances of experiencing a myriad of health and social risks. The Azalea Project uses an empowerment model that promotes self-sufficiency and personal transformation.

From day one, Crystal was determined to make the most of the services she received, and she was determined to give back, signing up for every class Healthy Start had to offer. Her one-year-old son Zuric was born at 24 weeks, and weighed just over two pounds at birth. As he struggled to live, Crystal found the courage to prepare herself to be the best mom she could be.

By the time Zuric came home after two months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Crystal was well on her way towards learning vital skills, and earning the seven certificates she now holds dear in a folder at home.

“I learned how to keep up with my finances, take care of my premature baby. Healthy Start took me from darkness into light. There are no words for what they have meant to me and Zuric, then and now,” Crystal said.

Now, Zuric is taking part in Early Steps, an early intervention program provided by Children’s Medical Services and the UF Department of Pediatrics that works closely with Healthy Start. The program provides trained therapists who follow up on the development of premature babies.

“I am creative. I love to learn. I thank God for the Azalea Project and Healthy Start,” Crystal said.

Crystal now volunteers her time in the Azalea office assisting staff with group activities. She also refers other women in need to the program for services.

“I am so blessed to be able to use what I have learned to help others.”