Sister Act: A Story Of Extraordinary Volunteers

Sister Act: A Story Of Extraordinary Volunteers

Crisi Suarez and Cari Santiago are identical twin sisters. They look alike, they sound alike, and they even serve alike.

Both having been active PTA members for several years at their children’s’ respective schools (Crisi’s son goes to Carney Elementary School and Cari’s son and daughter attend Pine Grove Elementary), they were attuned to the needs in the buildings and to the resources available – and those lacking.

When Pine Grove Elementary got “back to school” in-person after the year of virtual learning, Cari took the opportunity to co-lead its Room of Support, which had been established in 2020 just as COVID-19 set in and students began learning from home. A lover of organizing and systematizing, Cari got to work creating a QR Code system to take in requests from staff, and implementing new modes of communication to publicize the presence of the Room to Pine Grove’s teachers, counselors, and social workers.

Meanwhile, through Crisi’s role as VP of the Carney Elementary PTA, she became aware of two families in great need of support after experiencing house fires in their adjacent townhomes. Unfortunately, the PTA’s charter didn’t allow the group to assist individual students or families. Lamenting her feelings of helplessness to her sister, Crisi was inspired to advocate for a Carney Elementary partnership with the Student Support Network when Cari told her that a Room of Support would be able to assist with a situation like the one these families were facing.

A difference in the twins’ personalities came through over the following months as Crisi worked quietly behind the scenes to line up the approvals, funds, and arrangements necessary for Carney to become eligible for Network partnership, and Cari boldly spoke out in support of their bid to SSN decision makers to get her sister’s school off the waiting list and into action!

Carney Elementary was officially announced as a partner school in the fall of 2022, and Crisi, as a founding Lead Volunteer, had an advantage that most don’t: a built-in mentor in her twin sister! Cari was of course happy to continue helping – as both of the sisters do to the extent they’re able whenever they hear of a need. It seems helping is partly in their DNA, and partly developed from their upbringing and their own school experiences.

Raised in Columbia, Maryland by a hard-working mom and dad, and educated in Howard County Public Schools, Cari and Crisi credit their parents and teachers with setting an example by living lives of dedication and service. “We were never spoiled, we were taught that hard work gets you through. We learned to tile at age 12!” chuckles Cari, reflecting on the stability and comfort they experienced, which was balanced by gratitude and giving back. Crisi adds, “We saw adults who weren’t immediate family setting an example too; our middle and high school teachers always made themselves available for anything their students needed.”

How fortunate the sisters’ own children and their classmates at Carney and Pine Grove Elementary Schools are now, to see Crisi and Cari continuing the traditions of service and leading by example. The Student Support Network is grateful for your significant contributions, and relentless generosity, Cari and Crisi!