Freeport Community Services has ensured that the legacy of its first director, the late Betsy Ruff, will live on through the actions of young people in Freeport and Pownal.

Two recent graduates of Freeport High School are the recipients of this year’s Betsy Ruff Scholarship. This is the third year that Freeport Community Services has awarded the $500 college scholarships, but the first year that the scholarships are named for Ruff.

The organization also has honored another founding member by naming the Vaughndella Curtis Food Pantry in tribute to her, and it has renamed a summer camp scholarship in honor of Carol Southall, the former school nurse who started it.

Ruff, who died in January, “deeply valued” service to others and to community,  Freeport Community Services’ Communications Manager Christine Lyons said.

“We thought about the values Betsy embodied when selecting the recipients,” she  said.

Ruff came to then 3-year-old Freeport nonprofit in 1977 and served as its original coordinator and executive director. She supervised family case workers and worked to build the organization, which provides emergency and relief services, including its food pantry and a thrift shop.

Ruff also was an elementary school teacher, social worker and Freeport town councilor. She grew up in Aroostook County, where, according to her obituary, she helped her doctor father “deliver babies, pull teeth and set broken bones.”

FCS scholarship recipient Leah Rusiecki fixes some garden boxes this spring. Contributed / Freeport Community Services

Ruff Scholarship recipients Jane Dawson and Leah Rusiecki volunteer at Freeport Community Services.

Dawson helped Freeport Community Services with Thanksgiving meal preparation, boxing pre-packaged dinners as well as ingredients for families to prepare their own holiday meals at home. This past winter, she founded her own non-profit, Maine Youth Power, which encourages young people to take political, social and economic action. The group is working to finalize a state bill “that will establish a youth task-force to assess economic and workforce development in Maine,” Dawson said.

“Freeport Community Services taught me what it means to truly be an active member of my community,” she said.

Rusiecki worked to mend community garden boxes and get them ready for spring, volunteered at the thrift shop and sold “Spread the LOVE” heart signs created by a group of mothers in Yarmouth. She was not available for comment.

Curtis honored at her home last month by staff at Freeport Community Services. Contributed / Freeport Community Services

Like Ruff, Vaughndella Curtis was involved in Freeport Community Services from the beginning, Lyons said.

Curtis was surprised at her home in Freeport last month with the announcement that the food pantry had been renamed in her honor.

“They brought me cake, a nice necklace, and some beautiful flowers, but most of all their friendship,” she said.

Curtis said she volunteered 32 hours a week at the organization’s food pantry for many years and helped take care of children while their parents shopped.

“The success of the food pantry is truly her legacy,” Freeport Community Services’ Executive Director Sarah Lundin said.

Carol Southall, left, with her daughter, Sarah Crowley, who coordinated the surprise honor. Contributed

Carol Southall, another FCS founder, started a camp scholarship 40 years ago. It has been awarded annually ever since and now officially is the Carol Southall Camp Scholarship.

“In the late 70s I was an elementary school nurse in Freeport and became painfully aware of students who lost ground every summer when they could have been living in the outdoors, finding their place in a camp community and growing in independence and confidence,” Southall said.

The camp scholarship has become one of Freeport Community Services’ most established programs, Lyons said. Families who are assisted by the program based on their needs are asked to volunteer with Freeport Community Services to give back.

For more information on programs offered by Freeport Community Services or how to get involved, visit the organization’s website at fcs.org.

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