How do you spend your lunch hour?

Twice a week, Crystal Ruiz spends hers helping America’s most vulnerable boys and girls.  

She does it as a volunteer at Court Appointed Special Advocate/Prince George’s County, assisting the non-profit with clerical chores as it recruits, trains and supervises CASA volunteers for foster children.

“I want to help foster children, and this allows me to help a couple of hours a week,” says Crystal, who first learned about the hard times of foster children from her grandfather who grew up as one.

“My grandfather was in a number of foster homes,” she said. “Foster children need someone to represent them, to speak for them, and that’s what CASA volunteers do.”

Crystal can identify with foster children for another and even more personal reason. She, like them, was not raised by her biological parents. Like them, her mom and dad, for a variety of reasons, were unable to do it. So, she was raised instead by her grandparents who eventually adopted her and her brother.

Growing up, Crystal said, she knew she was different from other children.

“They had a mom and dad to go home to after school. I didn’t,” she said. “When I cried at night, I would wonder where my mom and dad were. It took me a long time to realize that my grandparents were my ‘mom’ and ‘dad.’”

Crystal became familiar with CASA/Prince George’s County as a neighbor. Its headquarters is in the same building where she works as a clerk at Purple Line Transit Constructors, a joint venture by three firms that is building a 16-mile rail line linking the Maryland suburbs of Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton.

To learn more about CASA, she checked it out online. Then, she contacted Kara Bundy, CASA’s Deputy Director, and asked if she could volunteer. “Kara said ‘yes,’ and I went to work,” Crystal said.

“Purple Line is on the second floor. CASA is on the fourth floor. So, I just need to walk two floors to go to my volunteer job,” Crystal said. “I think this is better use of my time than having lunch and the stairs give me some exercise.”