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A Life in the Spirit of Giving

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Ruth Kollenborn is a creator and sustainer of her community.

From our June 2003 issue. Ruth Kollenborn, 45, is a blond, blue-eyed, feisty mother of one and the unlikely anchor of her community, a Hispanic barrio in downtown Santa Barbara, California. In fact, her community of mostly poor Mexican children wouldn't exist without her: She is its creator and sustainer. For as long as she has lived there, Ruth has watched the kids in her neighborhood grow, sought them out, learned their likes and dislikes, tracked their stories, given them books, love, and encouragement, and ultimately, connected them by giving them a place to hang out. They play in her yard and eat in her kitchen. They gather in her living room to wrap presents for children affected by HIV at Christmastime because she wants them to know the magic of giving. Without Ruth, many of them would live in isolation, floating unmoored in a sea of poverty. A person like Ruth will never be described in any kind of study or captured by any kind of statistic, which is perfectly in keeping with who she is. Although she spends pretty much all her free time helping people, she doesn't call it "volunteer work." …

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