Create the Good is proud to announce the selection of Ruth Tschudin, 71, as our 2015 Cabot Community Celebrity Award recipient. Ruth will be joining exceptional volunteer leaders from across the country on a seven-night Caribbean cruise sponsored by Cabot Creamery Cooperative.
Summarizing the service that earned Ruth this recognition is no easy feat. It’s the cumulative impact of project upon project, too numerous to name, that has changed the lives of hundreds of children, families and animals both in her native New Jersey and her current home of West Palm Beach, Florida.
It all started, according to Ruth, when she got her first $5,000-a-year teaching job at the age of 21 and could afford to sponsor a disadvantaged child in India through the Christian Children’s Fund (now ChildFund). Ruth supported overseas children for the next 45 years, providing several with full college scholarships. She also found numerous ways to help those closer to her New Jersey home – mentoring teens through the front-line programs “Special Friends” and “VIPS” (Volunteers in Protective Services); opening her home to a foster child; inviting Fresh Air Fund children from the Bronx for fun-filled summer vacations; spending time with girls in PATH (the Pre-Adoptive Treatment Home); and starting a “Spectrum Singers” group for developmentally-challenged adults.
When Ruth’s beloved mother, Grace, passed away in 1999, she created a non-profit in her honor called Open Doors, an Amazing Grace Foundation. Its first action was to start the New Horizons program providing low-cost housing for those in need (using her mother’s old condo and a second one she and her husband, Hugo, donated). Over the years, New Horizons offered a safe haven to a series of tenants, among them: a mother with a pre-schooler needing protection from an abusive ex-husband while she attended nursing school; a man with Lou Gehrig’s disease for as long as he could live independently; and a young woman who had just aged out of foster care.
Animals were added to the mix after Ruth adopted an older shelter dog named Jessie, who had been abused and abandoned. After Jessie became a therapy dog, they teamed up to visit schools, nursing homes, churches and camps, bringing inspiration to both children and seniors. They also wrote a book in Jessie’s voice promoting the adoption of both children and animals, Bark Up the Right Tree, Lessons from a Rescued Dog, and went on fundraising walks to combat homelessness and different types of cancer. In 2009, they joined forces with local animal rescue groups to create a special day called “Dogfest” where the community would celebrate homeless pets and the families who adopted them. Hundreds of dogs have found their “forever” homes through the festival, which has grown exponentially and attracted 5,000 participants last year!
In 2012, Ruth and her husband moved to West Palm Beach, Florida to be closer to their daughter’s family. The New Horizons condos in New Jersey were then sold, and Open Doors added a new branch to its outreach. It started giving grants to charitable organizations and small non-profits, as well as to individuals for personal endeavors/needs recommended by churches and other reliable sources. So far, approximately thirty-five $200-$500 grants have been awarded. “And we try not to just throw dollars at them,” says Ruth. “We like to take it a step further and become lifelong friends with them.”
That’s how she got back into providing housing. Ruth learned that one of her grantees, a Guatemalan mother, was living with her two teenagers in a single small room and working three jobs to pay her $500 rent. So Open Doors purchased a foreclosed townhouse, renting the three bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs to the family for $300 a month. They’ve become so close that the family now calls Ruth “Mom” and “Grandma.”
The plan is for the main floor to be used by people needing short, emergency-type stays, overseen by the church or community group that recommends them. “A local Jamaican congregation has already approached us to store their shelf-stable food-bank items,” says Ruth. “Students from Florida Atlantic University have expressed an interest in mentoring immigrant teenagers in the area, and a local pastor and I plan to use the house’s meeting room to team-teach our own original courses with titles such as Happy and Free, a Change in Me and A Storyteller’s Walk through the Bible.”
When asked about the future, Ruth says, “I’ll just keep doing what I can as long as I can, concentrating on things that won’t get done unless I do them. The joy I receive from giving and doing far outweighs the cost. It’s just a myriad of small things done with great love… and an amazing truth is that it’s often the small loving things we can all do that bring the most powerful joys to all involved.”