When the Universe Aligns Perfectly!
by Jamila Larson, Executive Director
We recently honored many volunteers, donors, and community partners at our second annual Celebration of Playtime event here in D.C. We presented our first ever Volunteer of the Year Award for 2017 to one of our volunteers from the Big Kids Room at D.C. General: Crystal Rucker. Her remarks were heartfelt and touching, and I wanted to share them with you in full.
“I stand before you this evening extremely honored and humbled to be chosen as Playtime’s Volunteer of the Year. I want to first express my sincere appreciation and gratitude to Jamila for this opportunity in allowing me and other volunteers to fulfill our purpose through Playtime’s mission. I am also deeply indebted to everyone who acknowledged my contributions as being worthy of such an honor. Thank you to every Playtime volunteer, past and present. This honor is not just for me, but for everyone in this room.
I was born right here in Washington, D.C. to a mother and father who were both unfortunately unable to provide for me. My mother and father did not graduate from high school. My dad was a custodian with the D.C. Public School system and my mom cleaned hospitals and office buildings. Finances and other factors took its toll on the household, so I ended up being raised by my maternal grandparents. Through those early life experiences, I knew I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others, especially children. I think it was because I always felt as though society would check the “at-risk” box for me because of my parent’s poverty and lack of education. I was determined to prove society wrong and decided to devote my life to helping young people feel empowered to do the same.
I had never heard of the Playtime Project, but I now realize that the universe aligns perfectly when everything you do is in the service of your purpose. While working for the Children’s Defense Fund, I was introduced to Playtime after CDF invited Playtime teens to their annual Beat the Odds event. I later read stories from the teens about their event experience and was so moved by their own personal stories of resilience. From that moment, I knew I wanted to be involved with Playtime. What I didn’t know was that one decision would forever change my life. When I walked through the doors of D.C. General, I couldn’t help but look at the faces of each parent and child and despite not knowing their individual stories, I immediately thought to myself “this could be me!” I thought about my four-year-old son at home, and made the decision that I would provide the same love that I give daily to my son to every child at Playtime. I don’t think the children or families at the homeless shelter will ever understand how much they inspired me to become a better person, a better mother, and a better volunteer.
For Mother’s Day last year, I sent an email to my neighborhood listserv asking neighbors to drop-off self-care items to include in Mother’s Day tote bags. Thanks to my kind-hearted neighbors, we were able to prepare nearly 80 tote bags for the homeless mothers. On my birthday every year, I am reminded that this life is not about me, so on my birthday last June, I asked my wonderful friends to help me throw an end of school year party for the children at Playtime. The party included a magician, food, cake and ice cream, gift bags each with star-shaped sunglasses and personalized notes for each child to remind them despite their current circumstances, they are destined for greatness and have a bright future ahead.
All of my volunteer efforts were a reminder that although the families at the shelters may come and go, one thing is inevitable – as volunteers we affect eternity, we never know where our influence stops. As a volunteer, you can help change the narrative of how society perceives each child and the families living in poverty. I stand here representing a child who was given an opportunity to prove society wrong thanks to people, like you, who empowered me use my voice to make a difference in the lives of children. Nothing that happens in our lives is by coincidence. The universe has aligned everyone here this evening because you now have an opportunity to transcend your time, happiness and love into the lives of the young people served through Playtime. Whatever fears you may have about your ability to volunteer, whether it be the time commitment, a busy work schedule, or finding time in between parenthood, be assured that once you make the decision to volunteer with Playtime, your strength will always come from the resilience of these children. Thank you.”
~ Crystal Rucker