PEORIA COUNTY, Ill. (WMBD)– Whether greeting little ones getting off the school bus or guiding older ones behind bars, Angel Cruz has embodied the term “service” in the Peoria community.

This week’s CI Hero coincides with Hispanic Heritage month and Cruz said he’s embracing dedication and Latino Pride.

Looking to offer hope to those in and coming out of dark situations, Cruz has dedicated himself to working with the vulnerable in Peoria County for years.

“My dedication to serving the great city of Peoria is to bring about community transformation by working with those that are less fortunate and just able to speak into the lives of men and women with the goal of saying their condition doesn’t have to be their conclusion,” Angel Cruz said.

“It only takes an individual to walk beside them, pointing them in the direction where there is hope,” Cruz continued.

He said he believes he’s that individual called to help spread hope throughout the community.

Over the years, Cruz has worn numerous hats including working as a compliance officer for Peoria’s ELITE youth program, he’s been involved with Peoria Community Against Violence (PCAV), the “Don’t Shoot” community outreach coordinator, and now he’s the re-entry case manager at the Peoria County Jail.

Cruz provides tools and navigational plans to help incarcerated men and women lead successful lives once released.

This includes looking at education, employment, housing, mental illness, and substance abuse to create these plans, with follow-ups, to ensure specific goals are met and lives are changed.

“The goal here is an individual can be what they so desire they can be with the assistance of somebody that doesn’t look at where they came from or who they are but where they’re going,” Cruz said.

Peoria County Sheriff Chris Watkins said they hired Cruz just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and said he instantly became a valued work family member.

“Angel is one of a kind,” Watkins said. “He’s walked the walk which helps when you’re talking to re-offenders. He’s got every tool in the toolbox to help these guys and girls out to make the better choices when they leave here.”

Cruz said all it takes is compassion to reach out to another human being and tell them ‘yes, you can.’ He said it’s compassion that’s embedded in his roots as a Latino man.

“I can honestly say Yo soy Latino and I’m proud to be a Latino,” Cruz said. “Because I’m proud to be a Latino to help my people the same way that I help everybody else no different, no less.”

“But to say ‘juntos podemos’ together we can but it just takes the one person, that compassionate person and I believe Latinos are very compassionate people,” Cruz said.

Cruz said he eventually wants to do consulting on what re-entry really looks like.

He said for him that would be about ‘the one person that made it and what were the steps that needed to be taken for that person to get where they wanted to get.’