Ray Ruby remembers the first time he had a personal encounter with law enforcement. It did not go well.

Ruby was 13 and living in Waterbury, Connecticut. A family issue brought him up-close with the officer, and left him with a sour taste, he said.

“I thought if I ever had a chance to be a police officer, I would have handled that differently,” said Ruby, 33. “As a young person who needed someone to reach out, it was a missed opportunity.”

So he did what he has done since he was a boy volunteering at a nursing home, when he spent hundreds of hours with older people to make their days brighter, or when he put on a big red suit as an improbably young but undeniably upbeat Santa Claus. Ray Ruby stepped up.

After earning a degree in criminal justice from St. Joseph’s College of Maine, Ruby began work as a beat cop in Portland in 2005. He was 21, and worked the swing shift in Portland’s East End, patrolling Munjoy Hill and the nearby areas from midafternoon until the early-morning hours.

“I was forced to grow up very fast as a 21-year-old cop,” he said.

So when he wasn’t dealing with the traffic stops, domestic disputes and warrant arrests that wallpaper police life, Ruby found himself gravitating toward kids in Kennedy Park, playing basketball, chatting with whomever was around, or visiting classes at the Cathedral School.

His beat also brought him into the Boys & Girls Clubs on Cumberland Avenue, where many children from the East End and around the city spend the critical hours between 2:30 p.m., when school lets out, and whenever their parents get home.

These outreach opportunities were part of the long game of community policing and part of his job as an officer. They also drew Ruby in. He wanted to help families and children before they ever needed a police officer.

In 2009, after much hand-wringing, Ruby made the leap from the police department to manage the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Portland.

“I started spending so much time there, it bled into my personal life,” he said. “I thought I could make a more positive change day to day doing proactive work than reactive work.”

The relationships he made and the people he worked with made the experience some of the best years of his life, he said.

Ruby moved on from the South Portland clubhouse only this year, and now manages the Ronald McDonald House in Portland, which offers housing near hospitals to families whose children need medical care. It’s a quieter environment, but one still focused on helping families and children.

Now, instead of raucous games with energetic kids, it is quiet acts of kindness that light up his days, Ruby said. He does everything from marshaling volunteers to budgeting to making sure the sump pumps are working.

Underlining it all, he said, is the goal of helping families through the difficult period when their child needs medical care, whether it’s by coordinating meals for busy parents, or folding someone’s laundry when they don’t have the time.

“It’s a home away from home,” he said. “It’s where families can stay together and they don’t have to worry about the day to day. Maine is a giant state, but it’s a small community.”

Mainers to be thankful for

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: