Meet July’s Volunteer of the Month
This month’s outstanding volunteer is Crystal Rucker, who gives her time to our Playtime program at D.C. General Family Shelter, and received three nominations. “Crystal always goes above and beyond to help me when I’m stressed or overwhelmed,” said Site Coordinator Kelly Cohen. Crystal has gone above and beyond by initiating a Mother’s Day gift bag drive to give self-care items to mothers at D.C. General, and she donated her birthday to Playtime in June, bringing additional volunteers to help. Site Manager Ron Sheffer noted that Crystal “went the extra mile by writing positive notes to each child!”
Why did you get involved in Playtime?
I was introduced to Playtime while working at the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). CDF invited teens from Playtime to attend its annual Beat the Odds Celebration, where they honor five local high-school students who endure unspeakable hardship and yet still manage to succeed. Last year, the teens from Playtime were asked to write about their experience at the event. After reading their responses, I was so moved by their transparency, their strength, and their desire to want to tell their stories. I had never heard of Playtime before, and after reading their stories, that was the moment I knew I not only wanted to know more, I wanted to do more for the young people within my community.
How has volunteering with Playtime affected you?
As a native Washingtonian and mother to a three-year-old son, I see myself in the faces of each parent and I see my son in the faces of each child at D.C. General Family shelter. I empathize with the parents because when I walk through the doors of the shelter to volunteer, I often think to myself “this could be me.” I go home to my son and am reminded of how blessed we are. Volunteering at Playtime has been one of the most humbling experiences and has also been a teachable moment for me as I raise my son. I realize more than ever that children are much more resilient than adults. I admire each child for their strength and ability to still smile and laugh despite their temporary hardship. Overall, it has been such a fulfilling experience to volunteer with Playtime knowing that I have had an opportunity to make a positive impact in the lives of these children.
Share a memorable moment as a Playtime volunteer.
Recently, I threw an end-of-school-year party for the children at Playtime on my birthday. When I started planning, I would wake up in the middle of the night and grab my phone from the nightstand so I could look online for more party favors, ideas, and themes. I wanted that day to be so special for them. In lieu of birthday gifts, I asked friends to help me plan the party. My amazing friends came together and supported my idea by hiring a magician, providing food, cake, ice cream, arts and craft activities, and more importantly, love to each child. I remember whispering to some of the children who had given me a hard time with their behavior that it was my birthday and that I had invited them to “my party.” In return, I received the biggest smile. The ones who would misbehave were now pulling up a chair for me to sit beside them as they watched the magician, and some of them even proudly held my hand as we walked around the room. That day was not about me. Seeing the smiles on their faces and hearing their laughter was an indescribable feeling. I remember putting colorful star-shaped sunglasses in each of the party favor bags. I can still vividly see the images of the children proudly wearing their sunglasses—even in the parking lot. A reminder to me that even in the midst of the darkness, these children will always be like a star in the sky and forever shine bright.
What else do you want people to know about your work with Playtime?
As a native Washingtonian, having the opportunity to volunteer with Playtime is a great reminder of why it is so important to positively contribute to my own community. Instead of looking to others to make a difference, it is imperative that I do my part and be the change I want to see. When I reflect on my own childhood, the influential people in my life weren’t always family members. Most often, it was someone within my community who saw something in me that, at the time, I didn’t see in myself. Looking back, I realize that it took a “village” of caring people in my community to help make a profound impact in my future success. Volunteering with Playtime allows you to be a part of a “village.” It is more than a weekly commitment, it is an opportunity to show each child that you genuinely care and in return the difference you make is affirmed through the laughter brightness of each smile.