Ruth loses her career but finds her new calling

She almost died and it changed her life forever.

Ten years ago Ruth Wholwend-Lloyd almost died. The experience changed her life forever. 

A massive brain aneurysm sent her into two brain surgeries and a long stay in the ICU. Ruth had to start from scratch, learning how to do everything over again. Her brain didn’t recognize the left side of her body—if someone tapped her on the left shoulder, she wouldn’t know it. She was now subject to epilepsy. It took six months of grueling work just to walk to the mailbox. 

But she did the work. 

You see, Ruth is no stranger to difficult circumstances. And she’s never let her circumstance decide her future for her.

Ruth grew up in an impoverished small-town family led by an alcoholic father who was prone to gambling away the little they had. But she worked hard, got an education and got out. 

Then at 38, when she found herself single and raising three children on her own, she took her future into her own hands once again—she went back to school. 

She worked full-time at a job that began at 4:30 in the morning to provide for her family—one daughter in college and two children still at home—while she earned a Masters in Clinical Psychology. She soon remarried and built a successful private practice. 

When the aneurysm hit, her life had been busy and happy. Ruth struggled through physical therapy and worked to rebuild her strength. When she finally returned to the counseling practice she loved she was grieved to discover how difficult it was to concentrate on an individual for 45-50 minute therapy sessions. It was a terrible strain for her mentally to stay focused on a conversation for that long. 

For the good of her patients, it was clear she would have to give up her hard-won career.

And so, she reluctantly retired from counseling. But Ruth, the survivor, soldiered on. Having survived the aneurysm, she had a new-found appreciation for the world and the people in it. She may not be able to work any longer but she still had a pressing desire to make a positive difference in the lives of others. 

Before the aneurysm, Ruth’s life had been too busy to even consider volunteering. But now it’s become a calling. She started off baking—making an array of cobblers, pies, cookies and breads that she sold to family and friends and then donated the income to various local charities. 

But it wasn’t long before Ruth was venturing out of the kitchen to volunteer with Senior Corps, mentor social workers at St. Margaret’s Shelter, provide Doula services to young expectant mothers through Catholic Charities, even teaching art therapy courses for women in Spokane County Drug Court.

A theme runs through her volunteering—using her skills and talents to help those in need. That’s why Alexandria’s House was a perfect fit. Not only did she have the counseling background to help the pregnant and parenting teens at Alexandria’s House, she also knew firsthand what it was like to overcome difficult circumstances, including being a single parent.

When Ruth heard about Alexandria’s House—where pregnant teens live while they learn how to care and provide for their new families—she knew it would be a perfect fit.

“I could hardly wait to get started,” she says.

Despite her enthusiasm, some of the girls put up barriers at first. But true to form, Ruth was undaunted. 

“I just decided that no job was beneath me,” says Ruth. “If a girl was falling behind on a particular chore, I would offer to help her—whether it was doing the dishes or cleaning the toilet.” 

She volunteers at Alexandria’s House several times a week and sees her role there as an opportunity to pass on the kind of positive reinforcement she got when recovering from her aneurysm. 

[Kind and lighthearted, Ruth is the "queen of baking" at Alexandria's House] “My husband would complement me on every little thing I did. If I opened a can of corn he’d rave at the dinner table,” she recalls. “’What did you do with this corn? This is the best corn I’ve ever had!’ He stuck with me and boosted my self-esteem in any way possible. I can do that here at Alexandria’s House too. If somebody honestly appreciates something about you, you are more apt to appreciate something in others.”  She sees volunteering here as a way to create this positive cycle in the girls.

Ruth has recently started coming to Alexandria’s House on Saturdays to bake with the girls. Despite their busy schedules with kids, work and school, at least one girl a weekend will usually come into the kitchen with her to bake.

“The baking is a way to connect to them. It’s that kind of one-on-one face time I used to have with clients when I had my counseling practice.” The girl or girls in the kitchen choose what they’d like to learn to bake. One week a Native-American girl in the house taught Ruth how to make fry bread. Last week Ruth taught a young woman to make banana cake.  

“It seems like those kitchen conversations help the girls open up.” And when they do, Ruth is ready to listen. In fact, since the aneurysm she has found that she focuses more intently on each moment than she ever would have before. That focus helps her really listen and see the best in each girl.

Ruth makes a point of reinforcing anything that is even slightly positive—from complementing girls on their baking skills to noting how patiently a girl handled a difficult situation with her child.

“These girls beat themselves up enough. They don’t need any more criticism. I want to provide as many possible ways for them to shine as I can. They have self-esteem, it just needs to be nurtured.”

This summer, Ruth plans to help acquire a new couch and kitchen supplies for Alexandria’s House, start a therapeutic garden on site at Alexandria's House and even take the girls for field trips to the store to learn to budget and grocery shop.

Ruth is passing on her gift of seeing the bright side. She is not only helping the girls find confidence and self-esteem, she is helping the young women at Alexandria’s House do what she herself has done in life—forge a positive future no matter what circumstance hands you. 

“For both Alexandria’s and my own life,” says Ruth when asked what she wants to get out of her volunteer work. “I just want to make a positive difference.”

Learn more about current volunteer opportunities and how you can get involved on our Volunteer pages.