Pittsburgh Changemaker: Jessica Ruffin

Kelly Strayhorn Theater is presenting local leaders that have been changemakers in Pittsburgh. Whether they mentor, teach, sing or touch Pittsburgh with their art, KST acknowledges these pioneers. This is Our Story: KST Recognizes Pittsburgh Changemakers.

Jessica-RuffinJessica Ruffin, Director of Public Allies Pittsburgh. Photo Courtesy of Public Allies Pittsburgh.

1- What do you do for the community now and why is it important?

I am fortunate enough to serve as the Director of Public Allies Pittsburgh. Public Allies is a national nonprofit with sites in 23 markets. Its mission is to advance diverse young leaders to strengthen communities, nonprofits and civic participation. This work is so important because it not only has a direct impact on the communities in which the Allies serve, but I also have the opportunity to impact the lives of those that are serving – providing them with access to professional or educational opportunities that otherwise might not have been available.

I am also deeply passionate about education and am constantly looking for opportunities that seek to alleviate some of the barriers that deny some of our region’s students from receiving a quality education. This passion has led me to serve as a Big Sister in Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Mentor 2.0 program at Brashear High School, and a volunteer interviewer with A+ Schools’ SchoolWorks program. I have also more recently served as a member of the Career Readiness Working Group through the Sprout Fund’s Digital Badging initiative.


2- What is one defining moment of your life? (When you decided to do what you’re doing now).

In 2006, I had the opportunity to serve as a Community Problem-Solving (CPS) Fellow with Coro Pittsburgh. CPS was a 10-week fellowship for African American students who had a passion for creating social change. In this program, each participant worked on a project with a community host partner while receiving weekly leadership and professional development trainings, and engaging in community projects and initiatives. I was placed with the Negro Educational Emergency Drive (NEED) under the leadership of the late Mr. Sylvester Pace. Mr. Pace charged me with designing and implementing an male mentoring program in partnership with The Neighborhood Academy. It was an overwhelming task, but under the amazing mentorship of Mr. Pace, the application of the trainings that I received from Coro Staff, and the support of  my colleagues, I not only completed the task assigned, I was asked to stay on to manage the program for several months after. That experience really served as a  jumpstart to my nonprofit career, and each time I reflect, I am amazed at how much I grew personally and professionally in those 10-weeks and how meaningful the relationships that I established with my peers and other community leaders have been.

That was when I first recognized the power that strong apprenticeship programs have and my goal is to ensure that each participant that serves with Public Allies Pittsburgh walks away with similar knowledge, support, and relationships.

Public Allies Pittsburgh logo

3- What advice do you have for youth that want to become a changemaker in their community?

A changemaker is defined as someone who desires change in the world and, by gathering knowledge and resources, makes that change happen. My advice to youth who aspire to be changemakers is to not just desire the change or complain about injustice, but look for opportunities to serve others. One of my favorite quotes is, “Service is the rent we pay for living”. We all carry the responsibility and the beauty of service is that through it you have the opportunity to learn and grow. There are a TON of opportunities in local communities to take advantage of like programming available at the Kelly Strayhorn, or at your local library or YMCA or YWCA. We also have great community resources such as Pittsburgh Cares where you can find and sign up for service opportunities online. For those that are over 18 years of age, consider engaging in full-time service through programs like Public Allies Pittsburgh.

The point is to make a change you have got to get involved.


4-What is a song from your playlist?

“Imagine” by John Lennon

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