The Journey

Discovering a Calling
By Natalie Ervin

Kristine Ruggles, '03, discovered her love for volunteer management when she was in her 40s. A lifetime of experiences led her to the perfect job she now considers her calling.

Ruggles is the donor relations director at Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, where she recruits funding for the non-profit organization. Working for a 24-hour crisis care center for children is a career choice that enables Ruggles to give back to the Spokane community. Discovering her calling to work in a non-profit organization wasn't easy however; it required taking risks and embracing life-changes.

Ruggles married young and attended community college right after high school. She immediately began working in business and finance, and took a clerical support position at Seafirst Bank, in Seattle. Ruggles wasn't sure where she wanted to end up in her career. After several jobs, a divorce, and the start of a new family, Ruggles eventually discovered her calling for working in a non-profit sector.

"Deciding the long-term fit was difficult," she said.

Ruggles married her second husband in her 30s and moved to Spokane, where she became a stay-at-home mother. Glancing at the Whitworth in the Evening brochures, she felt a strong urge to go back to school. She set up a meeting with Diana Churchill to talk about classes and eventually took out loans to further her education. Even at age 45, Ruggles believed it was never too late to go back to school.

"Before I knew it, I was sitting in a classroom," Ruggles said. "It gave me self-confidence, and it was one of the best things I ever did."

The Organizational Management program was a new experience, but she felt at home with the close community of adults, many of whom were also mothers. The camaraderie gave her the support she needed to grow and excel in her studies. By the end, Ruggles had discovered a new passion for helping and managing people. "I felt a calling to use my business skills in a non-profit organization," Ruggles said. She was determined to get her foot in the door.

Ruggles attended a Whitworth leadership breakfast and met a Red Cross volunteer recruiter. Interested in new opportunities, Ruggles began helping out at the Red Cross in 2004 while also helping her husband with his business on the side. She recognized the importance of taking any opportunity available. Three months of unpaid work finally paid off. She was offered a full-time position.

"Just get out and take a job anywhere," Ruggles said. "Don't lock yourself in a box."

Ruggles took the position of volunteer director at Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery in July 2005, giving her the opportunity to give back to the community by providing crisis support to children and families in need. Her philosophy is, "donors are volunteers and volunteers are donors." She believes that volunteers bring just as much value to an organization as donors do.

"This was my dream place to be able to work," Ruggles said.

Ruggles' decision to seek opportunities along the way helped her find her ideal career choice in a non-profit organization. She believes her most important decisions were to not worry about establishing a career early and to experience life along the way. Taking unplanned opportunities helped her move from a simple career in finance to a life-time calling.

"I just fell in love with volunteer management," Ruggles said. "Servant leadership was a more holistic career choice than working in finance."

Two years later, Ruggles became Vanessa Behan's donor relations director and was ready to tackle a new challenge. She was able to build up a crew of volunteers with a total of 22,000 hours contributed in 2008. The new job gave her the opportunity to grow in the development side of the organization.

"My current position encompasses relationship building with all donors - financial and volunteer," Ruggles said. "I love it."

The Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery is often considered the "darling non-profit of the community," garnering heavy community support. Acquiring donations, however, is a lot of hard work, especially without government funding.

"We need to get to a point where we have renewable, sustainable funding," Ruggles said.

Donors want to know they are investing their money well, and pulling that money from the community is challenging, Ruggles said. To make the organization more accessible to the public and gain the long-term support of donors, Ruggles increases awareness of the dollar amount going towards direct service. Through newsletters and an annual report, Ruggles is able to use her business skills in a non-profit management position.

Being passionate about her work and having the necessary skills have helped Ruggles succeed in her career. "For most people who make it in this career, there has to be this passion," Ruggles said.

The biggest challenge Ruggles faces today is "keeping up with herself." The Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery is a place where Ruggles wants to stay. She believes that it's an amazing opportunity to be a part of something that gives children emotional support and opportunity. The joy of having children run up and hug her is something she could never replace.

"Finding that perfect fit is a journey," Ruggles said. "It's a series of decisions. It's a series of different jobs."