Published Dec. 12, 2013
GREW UP IN BELLWOOD WITH THREE BROTHERS, ONE SISTER • ENJOYS GOING TO MOVIES AND READING • IS A DEPAUL GRADUATE • EARNED HER MASTER’S IN PROFESSIONAL COUNSELING AT ARGOSY UNIVERSITY • STILL UNPACKING HER OFFICE
Kathy Ruffulo couldn’t have created a more fitting job description if she had written it herself.
When she saw The Community House was looking for a new director for its counseling department and Charlie’s Gift Autism Center, she knew it was time to end her 37-year career at Aspire.
“I was at the point of my career where I still really was passionate about the field of disabilities, but I’m also passionate about mental health, too,” she said. “I felt as though I wanted to be in a place where I could use both of my skills and saw this opportunity and thought, ‘This is too good to be true.’ So I went after it and I got it.”
Even after spending almost four decades working for the same employer, Ruffulo said the transition has been an easy one.
“Everybody from the trustees to team members here to people in the community, everybody has been so welcoming and excited about some of the new possibilities that we could start doing and some of the programs here,” she said.
Seeing how many different people use The Community House has been eye-opening.
“I’ve been here and I’ve read about it and I’ve heard about it, but to be part of it and see it in action is just incredible,” she said.
She’s also been impressed with the counseling department’s open door policy.
“Families that don’t have the economic resources are welcome here and the community finds ways to support them,” she said, citing in particular Community Memorial Foundation’s assistance. “When I talk to the therapists here they are so grateful for that because it gives us such a variety of people to work with with different challenges and different backgrounds and it keeps us grounded.”
Ruffulo also is excited to lead Charlie’s Gift, which she describes as an amazing program for children on the autism spectrum.
“I was drawn to it because of my passion for working with families that have kids with disabilities, but I was also drawn to it because I have a nephew who is 23 who is on the autism spectrum,” she said.
Society has changed since her nephew was a little boy, when many of the services Charlie’s Gift offers were not in place and people’s attitudes were much different.
“We can help children and families learn about autism, learn about how it affects them and build on their strengths to be successful in what they want to do,” she said.
Ruffulo initially had not planned to work with children with disabilities or to earn a degree in counseling. She learned about Aspire from a pastor who advised her to seek employment there after she quit a retail job she hated.
“I took this job as a part-time teachers aide and fell absolutely in love with the field and then went back to school from there,” she said.
She returned to school again about 10 years ago after losing her 36-year-old sister.
“I went through the journey of grief and I made every mistake I could,” she said. “That’s what spurred me to go back to school and get my degree in counseling.”
Ruffulo said she’s glad she challenged herself and applied for the job and said she feels lucky to be part of such a strong, giving community.
“You don’t find this everywhere,” she said. “You really don’t.”
— by Pamela Lannom