CCRI student and Providence native Christian Delacruz is heading west for the opportunity of a lifetime as he puts his studies on hold to help others in need.
After spending two weeks in Houston in early September assisting in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts as a volunteer for the American Red Cross, Delacruz decided he needed to do something “a little more intense, a little more hands-on.”
With a push from his academic adviser, Gail Sidney, Delacruz enrolled in AmeriCorps, a voluntary, government-funded public service program he describes as “American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity combined – on steroids.”
Inspired by the devastation he witnessed in Houston and the optimism of people who lost everything, Delacruz quit his job at the Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office, packed his belongings in an Army-green duffle bag and boarded a 5 a.m. flight 1,200 miles west to begin his next journey.
He will spend three months in Vinton, Iowa, in the AmeriCorps’ training program before continuing his nine-month deployment.
“I saw AmeriCorps in Texas and all the stuff they were doing and I knew I wanted to get down in the dirt,” said Delacruz, who drove an emergency response vehicle approximately 2,000 miles from Providence to Texas last year to assist in the relief efforts.
“Some people were literally left with nothing and these people were so inspiring to me because they had so much hope for the future. They knew they couldn’t sit down and put their head in their hands.”
Helping others is in Delacruz’s DNA because of his traumatizing childhood. He had no father figure, just several siblings and a neglectful mother who he says “made it very clear: ‘You are not going to become anyone in life. You are going to stay home and take care of me and the rest of the people in this house.’
“When I say that my life could really resonate with Cinderella, I’m not joking,” he said.
Moving from foster home to foster home, Delacruz never had the opportunity to continue his education beyond sixth grade. He instead earned his GED® credential within two years after extensive mentoring and tutoring. Shortly thereafter, he enrolled at CCRI, a difficult transition for a 21-year-old incoming freshman with no high school education or experience to lean on.
“I came into college on edge,” he said. “My sleeves were up and I was on the ready to academically defend myself.”
Once he adjusted to his professors’ expectations, and vice versa, Delacruz let his guard down and became an active member of the student body. He spent time in Student Government and helped launch the Student Advocacy Leadership Club. Outside the classroom, he served as a youth leadership coordinator with Parent Support Network of Rhode Island and was a member of the Healthy Lifestyles Committee of the Governor’s Council on Behavioral Health in addition to interning for Judge John Lombardi at the Providence Municipal Courthouse.
“The opportunities afforded to me as a student, when it came to getting involved with student-led activity, is definitely what helped me come out of my shell a little more,” Delacruz said. “I really am a social guy. I’ve always been an advocate. But CCRI has just helped to find those kind of qualities.”
With AmeriCorps, his immediate future is uncertain. Similar to the unpredictability of military service, he and his team will be deployed wherever there is need for disaster relief and assistance, whether it’s from tornadoes, fires, oil spills, or any man-made or natural disaster.
Each volunteer is provided a minimal living stipend – not nearly enough to survive on alone – so he and a group of fellow volunteers will share a living space and pool their resources.
“You live with those people, you dine with those people, and you shed tears and sweat with those people,” Delacruz said.
Delacruz will take two online courses while deployed in Iowa to avoid falling farther behind on his studies.
“As much as I’m disappointed that this is going to set me back in school, it’s going to allow me to gain so much more,” he said.
Once his deployment ends, Delacruz plans to return to CCRI on a full-time basis to earn his associate degree and transfer to Salve Regina University in Newport, where he hopes to pursue a degree in cybersecurity. But nothing is guaranteed, including the job he left behind, so this impending mission is understandably a major roll of the dice for Delacruz. He’s confident the reward outweighs the risk.
“I’m a smart guy. I fought for myself. I advocated for myself. I advocated for others,” Delacruz said. “I never really seem to have a problem adapting and that’s good, considering the history I had. I went through the wringer.”