Speaker: Ruth Pittard

Service Learning and Learning Service: Love as an Operating System

Love like life depends on it, be curious and expect miracles.

Ruth Pittard has practiced learning and transforming in love for most of her 74 years. A forward-thinking educator, she spent over 30 years supporting service-learning initiatives in her community and her professional home, Davidson College, near Charlotte, NC. In her last 14 years in leadership positions at the College, including as Assistant Dean for Community Service, Ruth chose to use love as her organizing principle for programs based in care and compassion.

“I began having adult visions of being a mind, face and hands for love in my community,” she says. “At the same time, I remembered a similar vision of a loving place since childhood—perfect strangers opening their hearts. My gift appears to be sensing people’s hearts and pain without interference or trepidation and then to be company. To stand with them.”

Often referred to as "The Love Lady," Ruth's first fully conscious opportunity to recognize her alignment with love came when she was in elementary school and saw a classmate whose family was quite materially poor being humiliated by both classmates and their teacher. Ruth watched, not knowing what action she could take. She chose to stand next to her classmate in love, knowing that her compassionate presence could make a difference. From that day forward, Ruth would consciously watch for opportunities to share compassion, love and support for any soul destined to cross her path. 

Early in her life, as a young mother, Ruth dedicated herself to studying awareness and listening. She became a teacher and a student of life while also learning how to be a mom. Her earlier years also found her days filled as the co-founder of a local food co-op, initiator of a town recycling program, and galvanizer of anti-nuclear peace groups.

Ruth’s professional life reflected her heart for integration of feminine energy and voices, education of young people, and spiritual expression. After years at home with children, Ruth became the first Director of the Bonner Scholars Program -- a multi-ethnic leadership program for students receiving financial aid -- at Davidson College, a liberal arts institution founded to educate students for compassionate lives of service through community engagement and service learning. She then expanded her service soul as a participant with the multi-year, million-dollar Lilly grant for spiritual integration in education. She later became the Dean for Community Service at Davidson College and helped implement and bring to life "service learning" as an integral part of the educational mission of the college.

Ruth so deeply connected with the people whom she came across in her work that distinguished American poet Lucille Clifton once gifted her an original poem after a visit to Davidson College.

After 30 years of service to the college, Ruth claimed time to become herself beyond working in a professional context. She sold her house and belongings and volunteered for organizations that were "changing thought and service". But after retirement, Ruth didn't stop.

Ruth's life took on the air of a pilgrimage as she wandered with a heart open to service opportunities as they arose. Referred by some as a “divine mother,” the grandmother of four began interning with nonprofits, authored a bilingual children's book, lived cooperatively with many people, and embarked on a spiritual eco-living pilgrimage of sorts. She bartered for housing, food and necessities for about five years. She practiced trust and cemented her belief in love as an operating system in her life.

These five years substantiated her faith in human kindness. Eventually, her heart led her home to make peace with her mother, for whom she provided care until her mother’s death. In the journey with her mother, Ruth says she learned to laugh from deep inside her body and soul, and found a lasting joy that has led her to practice love in all ways.

Today Ruth lives in a net-zero, solar small home of 600 square feet, and she'll tell you that it's too much space, more than she needs. She calls this part of her life the “bonus round!” Each day she travels with wonder toward what is next, and next, and next. She lives in joyful service, still dancing in curiosity, wonder and awe, knowing that “surprise” is another name for God. If you drive through her town on a Wednesday afternoon, expect to see Ruth and three other dedicated souls standing on the corner of a busy intersection with a sign hanging from her neck displaying just one word: “LOVE”

Ruth will tell you her whole life was about being serious and intentional but when she reflects from her current place in life, she realizes that she’s laughed her way through it. She continues to live an intentional life based in love, still joyfully “practicing”.  She believes anyone can choose to live an extraordinary life, filled with listening, love, and laughter.

Join Kerri Lake and Audrey Lin in conversation with this powerful voice of love and compassion, for whom love is an operating system.

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