Crystal Lain, 27, Hannibal

Sunday, July 1, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

HANNIBAL, March 24 — Hard work. Determination. Support from friends and family. According to Crystal Lain, 27, this is what fuels the American Dream.

Lain was "born and bred" in Hannibal. She met her husband, Kenny Lain, when he crashed her high school graduation party — "he came with a friend of a friend of a friend," she said.

The couple own a home in Monroe City along Mark Twain Lake, about 40 minutes outside of Hannibal. He works as a technician for General Mills. She is the manager of Danni Nicole's, a women's clothing boutique in Hannibal's historic downtown area. The couple live life surrounded by a large group of family and friends who get together for backyard barbeques, birthday bashes and four-wheeler rides.

Instead of moving to Columbia after high school to attend MU or Stephens College like many of her friends, Crystal Lain chose to pursue an associate's degree in business from her local MACC campus. She didn't think she could handle being away from her family and friends for long periods of time, she said.

MACC was also a good fit because she didn't want to accrue large amounts of college debt while she figured out what she wanted to do with her life, she said. She competed in pageants for scholarships and worked to help pay for school. Her aversion to debt influences not only the way she lives her life, but also her perception of the attainability of the American Dream.

"I think it's important to not live above your means," she said. "It seems like that's a crisis we're facing right now because people did choose to live that way. I don't like debt. We try to pay for things outright as much as possible. We have a home mortgage, but as far as everything else goes we try to save our money and it's just so much more comfortable and less stressful to have that ease of mind to know that you own things and that you don't have that debt weighing over your head."

One of her personal goals for the future is to go back to school and get her bachelor's degree in business administration. She's looking at eventually taking classes online through Stephens College or MU and commuting when necessary. Classes in marketing and management would help solidify her dream of making Danni Nicole's a success. The boutique is owned by her parents, and was named for Lain's younger sister, who was 18 when she died in a car accident in 2008.

"As far as the American Dream goes, we have every resource available to us in this country and you can do anything you want to do — anything you dream of at all. It was a big dream for me to work for myself and kinda do my own thing. I knew that if I worked really hard that I could put a lot of effort into it for years and years and then in the future be able to kick back. I know I'd still be in the shop all the time, but I'd have the opportunity to travel and just relax. That's still the goal."

Regarding possible obstacles in her way, Lain is optimistic and said she believes there's nothing faith and determination can't overcome.

"We have a lot of faith and we continue to pray … we jumped into the business at a time when it was really hard to get loans. They just weren't giving them out. So, we went from bank to bank and we just kept on trying and we knew that we were gonna make it happen. We knew that we were gonna honor Danni in that way and we just didn't give up. And like I said, we have faith that we're gonna make it happen, regardless. It is a hard time in our society right now … with people living above their means … so many people needing assistance. It's a tough time right now but we're gonna make it happen. We're gonna get past this hump.”

This story is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.

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