Team Member Profile: Ruth James, ‘The Mother of 58th Street’

March 24, 2017

The 58th Street Campus is Presby’s Inspired Life’s Affordable Housing oasis in Southwest Philadelphia, and Ruth James is the hard-working leader of it all.

Ruth James with Presby director of property management Ennio Rossi (left) and Preby assistant director of Affordable Housing Keith Caldwell.

Ruth James has always been active in her community. But especially so within the Presbyterian church, where she spends time volunteering.

One day just over a decade ago, the pastor at Ruth’s church pulled her aside to talk with her. Knowing Ruth’s professional background in construction, development and housing, he had a suggestion for Ruth that he thought she should explore. He thought she would be the perfect person for an opening he had heard about.

“He said there was an opening and he referred me to Presby,” Ruth recalled. “I interviewed for the job and I was offered and I accepted. And I’ve been here ever since.”

Ruth is the associate director of Presby’s Inspired Life’s 58th Street Campus, an oasis in the heart of Southwest Philadelphia that provides 240 units of sponsored HUD-PRAC Affordable Housing for seniors across three buildings – Ann Thomas Apartments, Greenway Apartments and Mary Field Apartments.

Though Ruth had the background components that made her a fit for the job, HUD housing was still fresh to her and brought a transition phase for her professional career.

“It was new,” Ruth said. “I had to learn the guidelines HUD has. There’s more people in these housing units and I had to adjust to that. But it was smooth and wasn’t too difficult.”

The 58th Street Campus is located within a centralized hub of activity in Southwest Philadelphia. The campus itself is within walking distance of bus stops and shopping centers, just to name a few things.

With its location in the bustling neighborhood, 58th Street plays host to numerous events throughout the year and Ruth is a huge reason why. She diligently pledges her time to make sure everything needed is in place and that each resident has a smile on his or her face.

“Whenever we have a collective event when all the buildings on the campus come together, that is always a good thing,” Ruth said. “Sometimes they do karaoke. Sometimes they have dances. Last year, we had an event where a singer came out and played the guitar and the people danced. The weather was hot that day, but it was such a good event and everyone was so happy. I like the campus-wide events.

“It makes you feel good. It’s rewarding. You want to get up and you want to come to work because you feel as though what you do matters and makes a difference.”

Ruth has also been known to speak up on the residents’ behalf to local politicians and has even welcomed those politicians to 58th Street to talk with the residents.

It’s no coincidence Ruth is known around the campus as “The Mother of 58th Street.”

“Ruth has a gift and brain for event planning,” said La’Kisha Gray, an administrative assistant at 58th Street. “She has the heart, courage and determination to complete any task that is brought her way.”

“Ruth is at the heart of it all,” said Tameata Jordan, Presby’s Inspired Life’s assistant director of Affordable Housing. “Ruth is able to draw every team member into coordinating events and sees every last detail through to make sure the resident and guest experience is enjoyable. … She is an invaluable member of Affordable Housing and her leadership is truly commendable.”

Changes over time are inevitable. And during her time at 58th Street, Ruth has seen the campus evolve. Ruth proudly explained how she has seen the residents become more diverse.

“We have more of an immigrant community, specifically a West African immigrant community. That’s grown,” she said. “We have more men as tenants. Before when I first started, it was mostly women who applied and were accepted. But now we have a lot of men who are applying and being accepted.

“I see that our residents are living longer. At Mary Field, we have seven residents over the age of 90 and the average age in this building is probably about 82-85.”

But the changes Ruth has seen at 58th Street are not just to those living in the apartment buildings. The buildings themselves have changed over the years.

Gone is a nursing home that once operated on the campus. But that building still stands and will soon be rehabilitated into a fourth Affordable Housing complex on the campus – Witherspoon Apartments.

“We’re very excited!” Ruth said. “We can’t wait until it’s up and running!”


*Ruth’s service and dedication to Presby’s Inspired Life was honored recently as she was named Presby’s 2017 Distinguished Service Leader of the Year (Non-Nursing) Award winner.