Ruth Adams finds a "natural fit" in her new role as Assistance Program Lead.
Ruth Adams had an idea of what she wanted to do when she joined the Board of Pensions, and she’s spent the four years since she arrived getting ready for it.
“It was a natural fit that I would step into the position of Assistance Program Lead,” Ruth said of the role she’s held since September. She develops and oversees Assistance Program policies and guidelines for the grants that go to Benefits Plan members and their families. Ruth is also charged with making sure the program’s offerings are known to traditionally marginalized communities.
“I have a vision to do more … to serve underserved communities,” Ruth said. “I would like to see where gaps exist and also if there are new programs we could add.” The Board shares this vision, she said. “This is something we feel like we have to do.”
Last year, the Assistance Program provided a total of $7.6 million in assistance. Need-based grants help active and retired plan members and their families in times when other resources fall short. Some assistance is designed specifically for ministers. Ruth describes the program as “amazing.”
Ruth got her start at the Board of Pensions as Business Administrator in September 2016 with the Church Relations team. She was home base for the Board’s Church Consultants, who are stationed throughout the country to help employers and mid councils make the most of the Benefits Plan.
When Ruth arrived, the Consultants, along with the rest of Board staff, were adapting to rapid change as the agency began to pursue a new vision of growth and expanded support of ministerial leadership. “You’re here at a time of flux and change,” the Vice President of Church Relations, Andy Browne, told her. “Everything will settle down soon.”
Ruth chuckled, remembering those words. Since the Board introduced the 2017 redesigned Benefits Plan, it has continued to add benefits offerings to enable congregations to provide coverage to more employees and to attract more affiliated employers, who continue to drive plan growth. The Assistance Program is an important benefit for all plan members, including those who work at affiliated organizations, such as a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) educational institution, camp, or senior housing facility.
In 2016, the Board introduced the pilot of Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations, an innovative financial education program that combines pastor and congregational leader training and awards grants to qualifying pastors. Church Consultant Elizabeth Little ran the pilot of the program, which went national in 2019. It was so popular that, to date, the Board has distributed approximately $5.7 million.
“Andy tagged me and Elizabeth to run the Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations program,” Ruth said. “If not for Andy Browne’s encouragement …. He’s definitely mentored me and encouraged me and helped me get to where I am now.”
“Where I am now” was not part of the original plan. Ruth holds a Master of Arts in English language and literature/letters from Fordham University but decided not to pursue a doctoral degree. “I met my spouse in the master’s program at Fordham,” she said. “So, if nothing else, I got a wonderful life partner out of it.” Her husband, Dr. William Fenton, led the couple to Philadelphia; he’s Director of Research and Public Programs for The Library Company of Philadelphia.
With Ruth working remotely and her husband part-time in the office and part-time at home, the couple decided to get a dog. “If not now, really when are we going to do this?” Ruth said, laughing. Honey, the miniature schnauzer, is her first dog. Ruth grew up in a no-dogs New York City building. Her dad had a 150-gallon freshwater fish tank, and she had a long string of non-canine pets: cats, birds, rodents, frogs, crayfish, even a newt.
Honey is a new experience for Ruth, a self-described introvert who reads a lot and watches The Great British Baking Show. “We have friends in the neighborhood because our dogs met,” she said.
The couple lives in Society Hill, Philadelphia’s historic heart, and have joined the marches for justice that have grown so common on the surrounding streets. “I think it’s important to show up,” Ruth said. Her vision for the Assistance Program shows the same commitment to justice as shared throughout the PC(USA). Now that she’s where she wants to be, Ruth plans to pursue that vision at the Board.