Ruth has a strong belief in standing up for what she believes in – and an equally strong drive to be a force for positive change.

As Director of Lowell CHC’s Teen BLOCK Program, she’s helping young people realize that they can, too.

But first, it can require navigating complex adolescent emotions and concerns -especially during this pandemic.

At Teen BLOCK (Building Leadership Opportunities and Community Knowledge), everything is built on an honest, open dialogue. As Ruth’s always reminding the teens, “Let’s just label how we’re feeling – and deal with it. However you are today, it’s ok.”

Ruth had plenty of her own feelings to process when her family relocated from Kenya to Durham, New Hampshire when she was 14 to join her father, a professor of anthropology at the University of New Hampshire. As you can imagine, it was a bumpy transition.

“I was definitely experiencing culture shock. I had a lot to learn. For the first two years, I just wanted to go home.”

Those first few years were a challenge, but they also helped her frame the world in new ways. She remembers attending a high school awards ceremony, watching a high-achieving classmate – and native speaker – win an award for English, while a German exchange student, who had made huge strides during the year, was overlooked. “It made me begin to question what we value in our society,” she recalls.

While building community in New Hampshire proved challenging, Ruth discovered a new sense of belonging at her church here in Lowell. It’s also where she met Mercy Anampiu, Lowell CHC Director of Health Promotion & Education, who told her about an opening at Teen BLOCK.

“I always knew I wanted to work with underserved communities, diverse communities and to be part of making a difference. I knew that the Health Center was the place for me.”

Ruth quickly developed a rapport with the teens and was promoted to Director in 2016. Teen BLOCK, she says, gives young people a place where they feel respected, valued, and heard. “Some have that at home,” Ruth shares. “But, for a lot of young people, that is not the norm.”

Developing that safe space is key to helping teens open up and grapple with their feelings, which leads to setting goals, like persisting in school and planning for the future. Especially now, when so much is uncertain, safe spaces like Teen BLOCK play a vital role in helping teens cope with fear, anxiety, anger, and isolation.

“We work hard to normalize mental health struggles. It’s ok to not be ok. We’re all just trying to figure it out. It’s part of the regular conversation – it’s not taboo.”

That’s why her team is working hard to build virtual programming, including twice-weekly check-ins — to keep teens connected until they can be back together in person.

Ruth also leads by example, sending the message that learning and growing never stops. She was recently awarded the Equity Leaders Fellowship through the Southern New Hampshire Area Health Education Center, which focuses on leadership and civic engagement. “I am very excited to learn from and share with other nonprofit leaders of color,” she says.

Ruth knows that Health Centers like Lowell CHC play a big role when it comes to creating lasting change in our community – and across the country.

“A lot of times our communities’ needs are not pretty, or convenient. They require us to have the honesty and transparency to do what’s right. But, the Health Center is always flexing to meet those needs – that’s not something you see in a lot of places.”