Meet Ruth Morris, our October YP Spotlight. Ruth is an inspirational leader not only in the community, but her career as well. She is utilizing her own life-experience to help others with physical disabilities and hopes to bring greater awareness to the resources available for those who have experienced limb loss.
Tell us a little bit about where you went to school and your profession?
Ruth is fitted for her prosthetic arm.
I completed my undergrad at TCU in Fort Worth. It’s a family tradition and half of my family has attended TCU. I grew up wanting to go to school there. I majored in Social Work and then sort of fell into my profession. I was born without my left arm and I have been wearing a prosthesis since I was about 6 months old. I grew up knowing I wanted to help other people with disabilities; however I didn’t know what that would look like. For part of my care growing up, I went to the Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas and received a college scholarship from them. The social workers at the hospital ran the scholarship program and asked me if I had ever thought of social work as a career field. They invited me to come and spend some time shadowing them in the hospital and I just fell in love with it. When I graduated from TCU I knew I wanted to pursue my Master’s Degree in social work. My next stop was Columbia University in New York where I pursued a specialization in health, mental health, and disabilities. I had the opportunity to work there with visually impaired individuals. When I finished school, I moved back to Texas to work for a private prosthetic company where I had previously been a patient. I created my own position where I was able to help other individuals with limb loss and their families be empowered to live independent and fulfilling lives. My focus was to provide the support services and resources needed through counseling and case management to help them cope and adapt to their situation. I did a lot of community outreach, community education, and helped educate other healthcare professionals. I realized when I was working in the field that there just isn’t a lot of research regarding disability issues, especially regarding amputees. This education gap inspired me to go back to school which brought me to San Antonio. I graduated with a Master’s in Public Health from the UT School of Public Health and I am currently a third-year doctoral student working on my PhD in Translational Science at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio.
What are your career goals once you finish school?
Right now I’m working as a Research Associate with the VA. Currently I do a lot of work with the military, Wounded Warriors, and individuals with poly-trauma issues. Long term I would like to lead my own consulting work. I would like to concentrate on working directly with patients, offering them counseling, family support, program development, conduct research trials and help make policy improvements related to disability issues.
Can you tell us about the Young Professional organizations you are involved with?
I love getting involved, so I am a member of several organizations including San Antonio Museum of Art’s Young Friends and the United Way’s Emerging Leaders Council. Two organizations that are meaningful to me and I would like to highlight are the Junior League of San Antonio and Leadership Organization of Professionals (LOOP). The Junior League is an organization of women dedicated to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving the community. I’ve been a member here in San Antonio for 5 years and previously, I was a member for 3 years in Forth Worth. I enjoy this organization because not only do you get to work with other empowered women, but I get to give back to the community through multiple avenues. LOOP is a community of young professional advocates who are passionate about becoming educated leaders to continue to transform San Antonio to be a city on the rise. Recently, I joined the Board of Directors and serve as a Co-Chair of the Membership Committee. Our main purpose on the Membership Committee is to engage our members in both our organization and within the city, as well as help with recruiting and retaining members. I enjoy my LOOP membership because it provides an all-inclusive experience- there are opportunities for socializing, networking, philanthropy, leadership development, and civic engagement.
Can you talk about the benefits of being involved in an organization like LOOP that promotes civic engagement?
LOOP Board Members
To me, LOOP is set apart from other young professional organizations in the sense that there is a call to be an active in your community. One benefit is that you are able to meet other like-minded people. Some of the professions are not very multi-disciplinary oriented and so you only interact with people in your industry. LOOP gives you an opportunity to meet people from other backgrounds, professions, and from other parts of town. For LOOP specifically, our mission is to engage, lead, and transform so most of our civic engagement events equip you with the knowledge to make educated decisions about being a citizen of San Antonio. Whether it’s voting at the polls or learning how to serve on a board or commission, or to work within a non-profit agency. We focus on equipping you to be a leader whether that’s in your workplace or a leadership position within the city.
Let’s talk about your work/life balance. How does having a disability affect your work/life balance?
I think having a disability, I’ve learned so much on the front end much quicker than a lot of other people in terms of taking care of myself and being comfortable with what my limitations are. There are some things that are more challenging for me or take me longer to do that has taught me to ask for help when I need to without apology. At the same time, my limitations don’t define me or what I am capable of achieving. This tension between humility and the desire to be independent has hopefully made me much more gracious and empathetic, towards others and most importantly towards myself. Going back to graduate school, I have learned to look at things within the season and stage of life you are in. By reevaluating what my priorities are now and understanding that just because I do not have time for something right now that’s important to me, doesn’t mean I will not have time for it later. I have realized that even if you don’t have as much time as you want to exercise, socialize, or keep in touch with friends, that there are still smaller things that you can do that gives you more of that well-rounded sense of being. Small things like reaching out to a friend with a text even you don’t have time to make plans or take a walk or read for 10 minutes can bring a lot of fulfillment.
Do you currently have a mentor that has made an impact in your life and career?
I’ve had several mentors and a good piece of advice I heard is to have mentors for different areas of your life that you want to learn from them. It helps to take the pressure off of one single individual mentor. You may have someone you work with who you look up to because you share the same career field or you might know someone who balances their work/life really well. There are benefits to networking with a lot of people. I would also say that my mom has been a significant role model, mentor, and inspiration for me. She went back to school and got her PhD and has been able to help guide me in my experience. She has been great at balancing being successful in her career in addition to prioritizing putting her family first and always being there for us.
Are you currently working on anything as far as Personal Development?
I am always working on improving myself- I think it’s the social worker in me! Currently, I’m working on being aware of what is important to me and creating balance in terms of my social life, keeping in touch with friends, keeping my home running a certain way, performing my school and work at a certain level, and my spiritual life. In juggling all of these different aspects, I try to work on evolving better management of them together.
What are some of the challenges that you see Young Professionals in San Antonio face?
Visibility is the biggest challenge, in multiple ways. First, from my experience working and interacting with a lot of organizations, when you are new to San Antonio, just the nature of how the city is so spread out can make it difficult. Some of the professions may be siloed depending on what industry you work in. This can be kind of isolating and difficult to find out where these different Young Professional organizations are. The visibility for new comers to tap into the Young Professional network, I think is improving with help from all of the organizations trying to address that issue. Secondly, I think giving visibility to and encouraging up and coming leaders to take on more of the leadership positions in some of the entities in the city is also a challenge.
What do you enjoy most about being a Young Professional in San Antonio?
It’s interesting that being from Fort Worth and then living in New York City that San Antonio is in a different stage of growth. I think there are so many opportunities here for Young Professionals to not only get involved, but have the opportunity to grow and develop within their own professional and personal lives. I think there is a tremendous opportunity to put your fingerprints all over the city and have a role in shaping these organizations’ missions and impact on the city. There is a lot of growth happening that is really exciting!
Going back to the research that you are doing, what is one of the biggest challenges you see Young Professional’s with disabilities face?
Finding the resources that you may need to adjust and cope with your situation can always be a challenge. For individuals who have a disability, whether newly acquired or something they have had since birth, you can control how you cope and adjust to your own circumstances, however, you can’t control other people’s reactions to your disability and their interactions with you. It can be really difficult at times because sometimes people are insensitive and they may not even realize it, or they are simply ignorant. I’m hoping to educate other healthcare professionals on psycho-social issues, coping, adjustment, and working with employers on how to interact with someone with a disability. I am passionate about sharing how to ask someone about their disability in a way that doesn’t isolate or ostracize them. Disability doesn’t have to be something that we are scared to talk about or acknowledge as a part of life, although it takes a while to make a shift in cultural norms.
Do you have any words of advice for newly Young Professionals?
Take every opportunity that comes along to show up at a social event and meet people, or to sit down with a seasoned professional in your field. Take any opportunities to expose yourself and not to limit yourself. It’s also good to diversify the organizations you are involved with.
Ruth in costume as Mattie Ross on the set of “True Grit”.
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you?
I am a movie star, literally I have my 15 minutes of fame! I am the body double for the Coen brother’s version of “True Grit”. *SPOILER ALERT* One of the characters, Mattie Ross, loses her arm and I am the body double for the adult Mattie Ross. I had my own trailer and they came and dressed me every day and I got to work directly with the Coen brothers and Jeff Bridges and even had more days on set than the actress I was the double for. It was a surreal and amazing experience!