Women's History Month | 5 MIN READ

Ruthann House’s Story

March 22, 2021 By Freilla Espinola
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Ruthann House, President/CEO of Great Lakes Community Action Partnership (GLCAP)

This is part of RCAP’s series to celebrate Women’s History Month and highlight the leadership and wisdom of the wonderful women who support this network

When I began working at Great Lakes Community Action Partnership 36 years ago, I never dreamed that I would stay in our organization for so many years, and never knew that I would one day become GLCAP’s president/CEO. While I did not set out to become a CEO and it was never my life’s plan, it truly was a natural progression that began even before I started working here. I was born and raised into a rural northwest Ohio family where service was expected, which most certainly guided my choice in professions. Neighborhoods were tight knit in my childhood. We knew all our neighbors and developed lasting friendships with many. This shaped my belief that we can count on one another in times of need.

Helping others is what we do at GLCAP, and it is why I am here. Among our many services we offer as a community action agency, we are also a proud partner in the Rural Community Assistance Partnership. Serving as the Great Lakes RCAP, we operate in the states of Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. As one of the RCAP partners, we have the opportunity to work closely with the national office and the other five regional partners, along with a dedicated group of skilled, committed, and professional board members from across the country. Being a partner in bringing clean water, wastewater improvements, and economic development opportunities to small, rural communities is truly an honor and privilege.

The good work of Great Lakes RCAP is one of the many reasons why I consider myself fortunate to serve as our agency’s president/CEO, a role I have had for nearly nine years. The past six of these years has been especially rewarding and challenging for GLCAP. We have added new programs, expanded our footprint, and doubled the size of our agency—something that could only be accomplished through a strong, dedicated team. But, just as our agency has “grown up” over time, in essence, I have too. In my early years, the “good ole boys” club was alive and well and there were certainly fewer women in positions of authority. During those years, I have served in many positions, always looking to challenge myself. Perseverance, hard work, focus, furthering my education by obtaining my MBA, and building my leadership skills have all led to my current role. I have also had the pleasure of working alongside many GLCAP family members who have grown up while spending their careers here. While I am proud that we have built a strong, resilient, and dedicated team throughout the years, part of my journey here has also led me to recognize that we will always be building and growing as we move into the future. Part of being a leader means accepting that leadership is a never-ending journey of continuous improvement and maintaining our integrity, as what we do when no one is looking shapes our public actions.

Likewise, being a leader means respecting and learning from the talents of others. I have always tried to surround myself with the best and brightest talent I could hire. No one steers the ship alone, so having the best possible crew makes us all more successful. Being a leader means taking care when making decisions. One important lesson I learned from a mentor was “the 24-hour rule,” meaning do not make a hasty or reactionary decision unless it is a matter of extreme urgency. Take 24 hours to think over the options before proceeding. This rule has proven itself many times over the years. Being a leader also means taking care of yourself and your family, and it means making sure your team knows to do the same. I hope that I have made the organization better prepared for the next generation of leaders while always stressing my “family comes first” mantra. We must first take care of ourselves and our families so we may be prepared to serve the individuals, families and communities that count on us daily.

Finally, being a leader means recognizing the value and importance of those around you. I trust that I have imparted onto my GLCAP family members that what they do each and every day makes a difference in people’s lives and our communities. We have a strong focus on building partnerships, both internally and externally, knowing that it takes a village to make great accomplishments.

Now, both within and outside our organization, the new generation of young women are beginning their careers just as I did 36 years ago. My advice to them is to show up prepared for each day as a new adventure. Utilize the talents of your team. Be prepared and willing to negotiate for yourself—others won’t do it for you. Put family first for yourself and your staff—you will never regret this. Finally, when things get “scary” as Fred Rogers said he learned from his mother, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” This is remarkably true. There are always helpers. Look for people who are helping when you need it and look for opportunities to help people when they need it too. Happy Women’s History Month—let’s keep building and holding up our sisters as we continue to move forward.

By Freilla Espinola

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