The founder and executive director of Milwaukee-based Revive Youth & Family Services, a multimillion-dollar social service agency, was once a brand-new high school graduate, working and getting ready to attend UW-Whitewater.
Monica Kelsey Brown, then the director of the university's programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, came into the McDonalds where Crystal McClain was working and told her about Upward Bound, a six-week summer academic enrichment experience on campus.
"And by Sunday I was packed and that's all she wrote!"
McClain discovered a connection with social work, where professors like Tim Reutebuch and Mike Wallace took the time to mentor her, along with staff members like Richard McGregory.
"I was thankful that someone took time with me - my life could have turned out very differently. That was so powerful to me."
The support helped forge a lifelong bond to helping others.
"I want to feel good about what I do every day, to feel purposeful that I am making an impact."
After graduating, she earned a master's degree in social work and became state-certified as an advanced practicing social worker before founding Revive Youth & Family Services in 2010. In 2018, McClain was named a "Milwaukee 40 Under 40" by Milwaukee Business Journal.
Revive Youth & Family Services started working with at-risk adolescent boys and today focuses on young people aging out of foster care, offering supportive housing with structured, treatment-focused programming. McClain runs the facilities that house up to 20 youth plus non-resident care, meaning they are serving between 30 to 37 youth at any given time and employing 25-30 social service professionals.
"When I work with youth, I think, 'If this child just had a Monica Kelsey Brown or half the influential adults that took time with me how better off they would be.' I quickly realized that I am that person to them. One day they may say to themselves, 'Ms. Crystal thought I could - and so I did.'"