Big-Hearted Habitat Builder, Poet, Entrepreneur, Austin, USA
It was a pleasure getting to know Crystal, her passion for work, love for her family and her triumph over the trials and tribulations of her childhood and adolescence. It is safe to say that Crystal has made an incredible home for her wife, kids and those families she helps through her efforts at the Habitat for Humanity. Against harsh odds, she "rose like phoenix" and persevered. This is the definition of WOW Woman. Read, marvel and cry (I did) from joy as you read the interview with this fabulous Texan, Crystal Moore.
1. Where is your hometown?
Goldthwaite, Texas, USA is where my grandmother lived. I moved a lot through my elementary school years. For each elementary grade, for at least one semester of the year, I would move back to Goldthwaite (a small town in Central Texas, population 1,867). At thirteen I was back full time and stayed there until I graduated from high school.
I must clarify, because most people that answer Goldthwaite is their hometown, it is implied they spent their whole life there. Those that spent their whole life there are accepted in a different way that a “new” kid would be. I was the new kid each year for several years. I would move to large schools most often around the Dallas/Fort Worth area. These large schools were diverse in race, culture, economic status, orientations, genders, teaching styles, MUSIC, and more. These larger schools also had negative attributes like drugs, violence, and over crowdedness. Then I would ‘quantum leap’ into a small town life, with less than two thousand people. Certainly Goldthwaite was safe in a way bigger cites were not, but for me personally my individualism was forced in to a certain state of submission. I had to become a chameleon of sorts.
So, though it is a juxtaposition, in summary, I am both very very proud as well as pained to say: my hometown is Goldthwaite, Tx.
2. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
I am an Executive Director of an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity (a global, nonprofit housing organisation focused on new home construction, rehabilitation, incremental improvements and overall building stability and self-reliance through shelter), a disaster response coordinator, an entrepreneur, a writer, a poet, a songwriter, a home maker in every sense of the word.
3. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career wise)?
CHILDHOOD - Looking back at my childhood, I know the true reason why I am so passionate about affordable housing issues today. I was born into a very poor family. My father was a young dad. My biological mother left when I was three years old. My Dad ended up taking care of my brother and me. I was six years when my nervous system attacked itself resulting in shingles (Ramsay Hunt Syndrome) on my face. After my recovery, my Dad remarried. He and his wife were still unable to provide a stable home. Although my relationship with my father was one of love, attention, and affection having stability and a secure physical structure to live in could have helped. There were times our poverty meant we did not have food in the home, we didn’t have utilities connected, we didn’t have transportation, and/or unless we had government assistance we weren’t able to seek medical or dental treatment(s). I have embarrassing or ghastly memories of stealing canned goods for my siblings, my Dad sewing up my skin when I needed stitches, moving in the middle of the night and leaving half of my things, stretching an electrical cord to the neighbors exterior plug to “borrow” electricity, adults using or passed out from drugs, warming water on the stove to give the kids a bath. All these conditions made me a ferocious survivor. Today most would say I don’t take “no” or “can’t” for an answer. I agree, today I believe that for every problem a solution can be found.
As I said before, I moved a lot, residing with either my dad or my grandmother. Both homes were dysfunctional in vastly different ways. Both living arrangements included verbal and emotional abuse from the female head of the household. One in particular would lock me away until I would verbally tell her how ugly or fat or disgusting I was or whatever adjective she decided that day. Neither was kind when explaining to me that my biological mother was a junkie that didn’t care about me. I was called a whore before I had my first kiss. This explosive environment taught me to compartmentalize and to live in an inauthentic way. I believe children experiencing any abuse at home do this to survive. Essentially the abuser teaches the child to lie, to not let the world know what is really happening in the home.
Therefor two things happened; first I learned to hide, lie, and pretend I was something I was not. This made me more isolated than I already was. This made me feel like any person that knew me authentically would not be able to love me. Second, I learned I could excel academically. I would purposefully spend my time in books, living in different worlds. The approval I was looking for came from good grades, learning most subjects very quickly, and adults making comments on how well I behaved. My immature mind thought if I became perfect these adult women, including my biological mother, would see I should be forgiven for the whatever reason they disliked me so much. I became a perfectionist.
ADOLESCENCE - My dad died when I was 16 years old. His wife left days after his death. My siblings and I were left (again) to navigate the remaining years of our childhood. We all lived somewhere between my grandmother’s homestead and a few friends’ homes. I took on being an instant adult, I took on being a guardian to my siblings, and I took on being a parentless child. The loss of my caretaker, good friend, and the only constant person I had in my life was frightening. I was alone. I felt more abandoned than ever before. I still don’t understand why other adults like aunts, uncles, step-parent, friends of my dad’s, or people in this wholesome small town didn’t feel the need to take any of this on with me. Maybe they assumed my grandmother was able to handle it all. Maybe they assumed I was handling it. After all, at a very young age, I had self-prescribed this personality trait that I could make it through anything and/or that I didn’t need anyone’s help. I’m not sure which came first my independence caused people to step away from me, or because people didn’t offer aid I became independent. I can say that after my dad’s death, sometimes to my own detriment, I became (even more so) fiercely independent.
Threaded through out all the childhood traumas, small town drama, and personal faults or character building I was also exploring my own sexuality. I was “out” as a lesbian to many older friends in Dallas, Stephenville, Austin, and New Orleans. In Goldthwaite however I kept it as a secret. I wasn’t “closeted” really; I just never spoke of any relationship. People assumed me to be private, straight, or possibly asexual. I obliged their assumptions.
ADULTHOOD - t took me a very long time to get through college due to financial restraints and adult responsibilities. Throughout my college age I was grasping at all the things I could learn. This alone kept me in school longer than most. Lucky that I love to learn. I was deciding how I would politically advocate for LGBT rights. I was “coming out” to everyone including family and friends from small Texas towns, strangers, and work peers. Meanwhile I was trying my first long-term, same-sex, live-in relationship. Basically, like everyone else in their twenties I was a toddler walking through my first trials as an adult. But like a girl with a walking stick on my shoulders and two water pails dangling at each side, I carried with me the need to be a role model to my siblings all while carrying my childhood baggage everywhere I went.
At the time I moved nine hours away from central Texas, I made plans for my career to be in the long-term care administration. I especially enjoyed working with Alzheimer’s patients. I worked in nursing homes and then for a shorter time a hospital setting. In both organizational settings, without being taught how I started new programs they didn’t have before, started new systematic procedures, started new documentation policies etc. Unfortunately , as I got promoted quickly and expanded on my career I was at the lowest in my personal growth. I went from hands-on helping people to using my talents in making companies more profitable. I was seeing patients less and less. My siblings needed me less as they too became adults. I was physically hard on myself through social and binge drinking. I never slept. I didn’t treat my friends or lovers as well as I should have. Aside from my siblings/kids, I was self-centered. I experienced more deaths and losses. I took drugs legally or illegally every single day through the ages of 16 to 26. I was around 26 years old, had been awake for 72 hours straight, and had been working at a nursing home through a snow storm for almost 40 hours, when I fell to the floor unable to control my body. From the outside it looked as if I was having a seizure, on the inside I was having an internal dialogue about dying young. I imagined my siblings going through losing me too. When going through my life's snapshots there were few points of feeling proud. I was proud of my education, career, and raising my siblings/children. Mostly though, I was absolutely disappointed in myself. Sure I had pulled myself out of financial troubles, I hadn’t allowed verbal abuse to continue, and found myself in improved living conditions. But it was crystal (pardon the pun) clear to me I was not the person I was striving to be. It was like watching a slow motion memory before living through it. What they years later finally called a Guillian Barre episode was actually a vision and life-changing moment for me.
EPIPHANY - I laid in the hospital bed unable to form words but on the inside I was combination of wild fires and wind. I wanted to run. I came to this realization I could decide what I wanted my future to be like. I decided what my future would look like. I saw myself joyous, doing good works for good people, and being happy. Truly happy. I did not have anyone to model this after but I wanted a career that mattered, I wanted kind people around me, I wanted healthy kids/babies, I wanted a peaceful and happy and passionate relationship. I just remember thinking “Lord let me get out of this hospital bed and I will live as I had been raised in the best of circumstances. Lord let me get out of this hospital bed and I won't waste any more talent or time.”
And seriously, like the saying goes, like a phoenix I rose. I did.
I was in a dead-end relationship. Without a warning I left the hospital and went to a new apartment, single. I soon left my medical job and focused on running programs for underprivileged children. Most importantly I helped develop, coordinate, and run a program for children to receive free lunches during the summer. We also ran programs that provided free activities and events for children. I helped find funding and design new water play grounds for underserved neighborhoods. I started to work on being healthier. I started working on mending relationships and friendships. I started to let go of the presenting of perfection. For a few years, I proactively struggled to be a better person. Sure I messed up at times, but overall I started to make the best decisions I could at the moment. By mid to late 2004, I was actively pursuing self-acceptance and spiritual renewal. I went on a two-week retreat where I participated in an energy work, sweat lodges, and a lot of journaling. I was sharing, remembering, and accepting for the first time a lot of things from my past and most importantly I was also letting them go. I was lighter and started to celebrate the positive things I had to offer. I became awakened.
HURRICANE - September of 2005, just weeks after Hurricane Katrina I was asked to assist at the Houston astrodome to provide some recreational activities for the displaced children. When I arrived I instantly went into a leadership role of getting people accounted for, seeking medical treatment, and addressing other needs. After being there for a few days, one of the disaster response leaders stated they needed someone that could drive a trailer, someone tall enough to wade through high waters, someone that wouldn’t be scared, someone loud enough to be heard, and someone bossy. My assigned staff at the time said “oh you’re asking for Crystal Moore”. So I accepted the job of taking a trailer to check on my beloved New Orleans.
Actively helping in the disaster recovery, I saw a humanity and acceptance I had never witnessed before. No matter age, size, race, economic background, religion, orientation, anything - if help was there they didn’t turn away. There is something to be said about being physically exhausted, filthy, and unkempt but yet I slept like I hadn’t in years. My soul aligned to this work. I didn’t mind the work or being in Armageddon-type conditions or be alone, but my God, I missed the music. We didn’t have the battery life or electricity to listen to music. Sometimes, some of us would sing a bit, but it didn’t satiate the need. One evening I could hear someone playing the guitar so I waded away from tent to a newer tent set up two blocks down. It was dark with no street lights, and as I crept up I could see a swamp light and shadows of people laughing in a tent. As I got closer, I saw in it people were singing, dancing, drumming, and passing the guitar around. These volunteers had Habitat for Humanity logos on some of their gear. I decided then, when I got back home I would look in to this organization. If they were happy working hard, and I felt happy doing this work, then most likely we were of the same kind.
HABITAT and the HUMANITY - Sure enough, as I had suspected, I fell in love with the Habitat's mission and people. Habitat is a hand up not a hand-out. Partner families go through credit repair, educational classes to learn how to budget, physically take care of a home, they are assisted in writing wills etc. Families complete hundreds of hours in sweat equity. So not only are they dealing with their circumstances of poor housing, working a job or two, raising children sometimes as a single parent, but they ALSO volunteer with Habitat and/or help to build their Habitat neighbors home. The resilience is inspiring. I was changed working right next to individuals that were sacrificing, striving, and working hard to do their best for their children. Upon completion of the home, the family purchases the home through a no interest loan. I started as a volunteer and witnessed their impact for a few years. I remember having a quote in my office by Alexander Den Heijer “when a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” This is what Habitat does. I would shed a few tears, well, I still do, when I get to be a part of a family signing their closing paperwork or receive the keys to their home. I’m blessed to be able to witness them go from believing they would never know home ownership because they never knew anyone in their family to own a home to becoming someone with pride. I also get to witness what having a decent, safe, affordable home does for children. The way a child lights up knowing they have a room to play in, a kitchen to sit and do school work in, a home to grow up in. It is beautiful. I began to be grateful for everything I had in my life, for everyone in my life, for everything I had to offer this world. I became grateful.
THE RETURN - I decided that after my youngest sister graduated from high school and moved away from home, I somehow would find my way back to Central Texas. Certainly not Goldthwaite, but somewhere close to the Hill Country (the trees, and the rivers). In 2007, after being single for some time, I was visiting Austin, Tx again. This visit was for a Patty Griffin concert. I was on the balcony at Stubbs and met a beautiful woman I wouldn’t have identified as gay. A few months later, by accident or divine intervention, online I found this same woman again. I realized she lived in Austin at one time and currently was living in San Antonio. Even later, we were in love (more on that later).
In the summer of 2009 I had moved somewhere between Austin and San Antonio, I was engaged, and I was employed with an affiliate for Habitat for Humanity. Nine years into this career I know it is the one for me. I have worked (in some aspect) every job position our affiliate had on offer and every single day I have loved it.
As the Executive Director for a few years now, I'm in a most challenging and rewarding role. I am responsible for Habitat families, volunteers, staff, subcontractors and community partners. I make hard decisions several times a day. I have to walk into any room at any time and make people feel at ease around me, whether it is a family in crisis or presenting to potential donors. I am also responsible for loudly advocating for affordable housing (although that has never been a problem for me) :). I have to be a leader in fighting for the rights of the under-served neighborhoods. It is also the first career position where I have no true co-peers. I have mentors, advisors, and friends I can talk to, but no one in my affiliate is in the same position as me.
All of the above, my history, past and present made me who I am now - a survivor, a chameleon, an independent thinker and doer.
Most days I go home exhausted from having multiple meetings, filthy or unkempt from building a home or speaking with donors. But overall, I sleep better than I ever have.
I AM blessed.
4. What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of?
In my career I am proud of the programs and spaces I helped develop either for patients or children, a lot of these are being used currently. In my Habitat career today I am most proud of not only the mission my work is tied to, but also the people I work with. Every single person in my affiliate or in any affiliate around the world gets up every day wanting to build a world where every person has a decent place to live. It makes me feel part of something bigger than myself. I am proud to say I have not only been involved in building homes locally, or in the states when I travel, but have also helped build homes in Africa, in Tanzania for example. I consider the families there to also be our affiliate’s (my) families too. I am absolutely the most proud of our Habitat families/homeowners as many succeeded at overcoming some very tough circumstances, made it through incredibly difficult situations beyond their control, to now move up and offer their children an improved future.
BETTER HALF. In my personal accomplishments I am most proud of my marriage and my authenticity. I never knew I would get married. Society had told me a woman may only succeed at either a career or marriage. Since I wasn’t good with emotional vulnerability or trust, I chose career when I was younger. Kind of like ordering from a fast food menu. I did not personally know a single couple that had the type of marriage I would want (thankfully I know so many happy couples now!). I have always been an independent person and thought I would never want to have one other person around me every single day. Not to mention the thought of another person needing ME around so much.
Marriage seemed illogical. The woman-who-would-become-my-wife and I would run into each from time to time at concerts. I would find myself scanning the crowd for her. Different circumstance allowed us to anonymously run in to each other in a self-improvement group online and it was there we found a true, deep friendship before approaching anything romantic. I still had no preconceived intentions when she asked me to meet her in a karaoke bar on her birthday. We were giggly when we agreed this would be our ‘first official date’.
I had little faith when I walked into that bar. She was sitting with her back to me and the front door (which I found fascinating and vulnerable), I froze for a few seconds while examining the neon light landing on her bare shoulders. She turned to look over her shoulder at me. I knew instantly things would change between us. When we left I told my friend “This is the (WOW) woman I’m going to marry someday.” A decade later it’s still this intense.
We have the best time whether we are at a friend’s wedding, working in the yard, or just saying hello at the end of a work day. We are kind to each other.
Jaemi allows me to be as independent as I want. I often attend concerts alone, she goes to different classes, we both visit friends and family individually. Once a year we choose to go on an individual solo (or with other friends/family) vacations. I usually go alone on mine and use this time to recharge and frankly as time to miss her. Coming back together always feels so good. July 2018 we will celebrate ten years of going on a date once a month. Every month on the 11th she and I go on a date I have planned, sometimes they are themed, or a surprise, or silly, or serious, or sexy, or out-of-town, or in our house, or whatever we want. We have never missed an 11th date and everyone in our lives knows to plan around this date. We still look forward to our date and each other every month. I know my marriage is equally my wife’s efforts and mine. I am proud to have married someone like her and I am proud that she and I choose to put our marriage first. Our marriage, the marriage she gives me, is the home I searched for my whole life.
I am proud of the fact that I live authentically. and don't fake one thing. I am as honest as I can be in every conversation. I’ve learned the more authentic I am the more like minded people gravitate towards me. This took me many years to do well but I feel like I’ve finally found the truth in myself, and I'm able to express truth without being brutal.
5. What did you study in school?
I have two Masters degrees, one in Business Administration and second in Sociology with a focus on organizational culture. I am also very close to completing my doctorate in sociology. I am currently deciding if I would go back to finish my doctorate because it will help me do better work, make me a better person, or out of sheer vanity.
6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?
I didn’t know the type of life I lead was possible or could even exist, so I would say it is completely different from what I pictured at 20. At 20 years old I was in survival mode of just getting through raising kids, bad relationships, school, paying bills etc. I probably pictured that struggles and challenges to overcome were all that life would offer me.
7. What was your biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?
That’s hard to answer because anything I was disappointed about in the past led me to a greater plan.
8. Advice for other women?
Be who you want to be, when you want, where you want and how you want. There is so much pre-programming we, as little girls and women, go through that is simply. not. true.
9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it for "feminist values"?
(My answer would be totally different if you would have asked before Nov. 2016.)
In the early 90’s, in what seemed to be an upswing in conversations about Women’s Rights: take-daughter-to-work-day was born, Violence Against Women Act, Gender Equity in teaching science and math, Family and Medical Leave Act, LGBT activists were everywhere etc.) I remember reading Handsmaid’s Tale, laying in bed and thinking “this could never happen in United States”.
Today I wouldn’t be so brazen.
Can women be “all that we can be”? Yes, unequivocally so. Each woman can do and be who she wants to be. Of course this is harder in certain cultures, economic make-ups, and careers. It would get easier if as women we band together to protect each other and each other’s rights. I think figuring out how to do this as a fully represented group is the answer to moving forward with feminist values.
I’m not sure of all the details or on the largest scale the know-how of how to accomplish this. My suggestion for some changes would be to demand gender equality in wages. We must get women out of financial prisons so they do not have to depend on a men to survive. This includes holding men accountable to financially support their children. Our current system doesn’t work. Single-woman family households now make up 25% of American households and we expect women to raise successful children all alone, sick, and poor.
10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
Being almost six feet tall I always feel tall! I have so many happy places: spending time with my babies, sitting in the shade under a tree, being by or in the river, visiting New Orleans, rocking out at a concert, spending silly time with my wife, after completing a major task at work. Once I learned how to be happy, once I made myself happy, I am happy everywhere. I gravitate towards the people, places, and things that make me the happiest.
11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
I meditate and have prayer time for twenty to thirty minutes a day. I have done this for more than a decade now so it is a part of me. I wake-up and I meditate.
I am most proud of the fact I choose one or two things a year to really learn. Sometimes I choose to work on myself, sometimes I choose to face a fear, sometimes I just want to learn something new. For example: one year I learned to make jewelry, one year I read every religious book I could find, or last year I studied Feng Shui, OH! A few years ago I faced my fear of heights and got my pilots license! Every year is different. This year I am forcing myself to be open to projects that make me feel vulnerable. It’s something I need to work on. (Hence, my acceptance of being interviewed by WOW Woman.)
12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?
I want to double the homes we (Habitat for Humanity) build in our county. I want to end unstable housing in my county, state, and world. I want to be the wife Jaemi needs and wants. I want to be the best grandma and aunt I can be.
13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
I’m still afraid to tap into my fear of mortality. I think losing loved ones so early in my life made me petrified of death. I think aging has me understanding more about how short life really is. I have done well in using this fear to live life to the fullest, but in some way it has helped to justify poorly taking care of myself physically/health wise. Maybe this will be the next thing I focus on after I finish this vulnerability endeavor.
14. Anything you'd do differently if you had another go at life?
Regret is a self-inflicted wound. There are hateful words I’ve said I wish I didn’t. There are times I could have been kinder. I could have offered forgiveness readily. I wish I got to me sooner than later. If I would have found me sooner, I would have found my wife sooner, I would have found my dream career sooner.
Oh and I would have gotten a puppy earlier in life. I was 34 before I got my first dog and now she is one of my best friends!
15. What inspires you?
Lately I have been so inspired by the next generation. I am inspired by the young people that are peacefully protesting, that are rioting, that are walking out, that are standing up.
16. What are you hopeful about?
I still hold hope in humanity. I can’t help but believe that though we may stumble, we will eventually save each other.
17. What are some ingredients to a good Life?
a sparkly-eyed wife, a warm cup of coffee or iced tea depending on the weather, music with good lyrics, books, babies to love on, friends, laughing, standing close enough to the river you can feel the current...
18. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?
I’d tell her:
You’ve got this. No matter what they say or what happens.
If your inner dialogue sounds like the people that have been cruel to you then kill it off. Re-cast the voice as a compassionate, friendly, loving voice.
Learn to manage and invest your money as soon as possible.
Come to terms with being beautiful because one day the most gorgeous women you’ve ever seen will believe you are; walk in it now so that you are ready for her when she calls you so.
Hug your Daddy more, he’ll be gone soon.
19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
My readings can be seen as a bore. Now I read mostly historical or biographical books. I don’t read a lot of fiction. I’m currently reading ‘Broad Band’ by Claire Evans and ‘Karl Marx: A nineteenth-Century Life’ by Johnathan Sperber.
What I gift more is a totally different answer. First, I only gift books to my babies ‘Love you Forever’ Robert Munsch. ‘Romona’ books by Beverly Clearly. When they become teenagers, I give them all the books by Anne Rice. To adults I mostly gift modern day poetry, but it changes often. Today it would be Good Ghost Bill (Bill Moran), Lacey Roop, Desireé Dallagiacomo, or Hanif Abdurraqib.
20. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description?
Most women in my life are Wow Women! The women I work with are amazing. We are judges, doctors, family services professionals, carpenters, stay-at-home moms or retired women. Most of them prefer to work anonymously; they all are trying to build more homes for families that need that much needed hand up. Next time you are in town I could introduce you.
21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?
I write under a few aliases so you’ll have to do some research to find them!