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Ruth Jones: 2015 MLK Community Distinguished Service Award honoree

Ruth JonesRuth T. Jones considers herself a beneficiary of the foundation laid by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As executive director of the YWCA South Hampton Roads, she is mindful of what she calls an obligation to pay it forward every day.

“Our mission is to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice and human dignity for all. These are all things that King was an advocate for,” said Jones, recipient of Tidewater Community College’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Distinguished Service Award for 2015.

Jones grew up after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, though she recalls being bused from her family’s home in the Pine Oaks section of Virginia Beach to Thalia Elementary – a ride that literally took her to the other side of the train tracks, signifying the haves vs. the have nots. She remembers hesitating before applying to The College of William & Mary, wondering if it was the right choice for a black woman. The college’s pre-college summer program targeting minorities alleviated any concerns she had.

“I’m living out this dream that King had that we would all have a seat at the same table,” Jones said. “He made me appreciate the dream and instilled in me an obligation to give back.”

More than two decades ago, Jones needed YWCA services herself, surviving both rape and an abusive situation as a teenager. After a few weeks in a domestic violence shelter, her family grew strong enough to rebuild. Graduating from Bayside High School with honors, Jones planned to be a pediatrician, but her desire to work with people moved her toward social work. She earned her bachelor’s in sociology from William & Mary and then a master’s in social work from the University of Pennsylvania. Jones is currently a candidate for a Ph.D. in social work from The Catholic University of America.

Before starting her position at YWCA South Hampton Roads in June 2012, Jones had made her mark as an executive level manager, direct service practitioner and organizational development specialist in metropolitan Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. Among her accomplishments: spearheading the “New Ballou” rebranding project for Washington’s Ballou High School, which has a 99 percent African-American student population. As the director of resource development for the D.C. Public Schools, Jones secured major donors and targeted strategic community partners to raise more than $127 million for the project.

The Rev. Kirk Houston, recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Distinguished Service Award in 2013, regards Ms. Jones as “an extremely conscientious person who has a real heart for matters of social justice and community betterment.”

Achieving a leadership role at the organization that was so instrumental in her life was a conscious decision for Jones. “This is what I was destined to do and what I was prepared to do,” she said. “Who has the opportunity to make their life come full circle?”

Her priorities at the YWCA include furthering the mission of empowering women by ensuring they have the education and resources to succeed. Expanding community partnerships plays an important role as the organization moves forward. The YWCA and TCC entered into a partnership last year that brought affordable child care to each campus.

“It’s meaningful for the majority of people we serve, most of whom are TCC students,” she said. “It’s meaningful for our staff, many of whom are TCC students or alumni. It’s been great for who we are, what we do and how we seek to make a difference in the community.”

Jones serves on the board of directors for Communities in Schools Hampton Roads and is a member of the American Association of University Women, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, Delta Research and Educational Foundation, National Association of Black Social Workers and the National Council of Negro Women.

“I made a conscious decision to serve those who are the least advantaged in our community,” she said. “If there weren’t people available to reach back and help me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”