In the Warmth of His Light

Honoring Thomas J. Ruffen's Enduring Legacy and Celebrating New Leaders on The Path

November 30, 2023

By Vetto Casado, Assistant Director, Shifting Power and Advancing Justice

As Thomas and I found ourselves walking up the trail in the Southern New Hampshire woods, we laughed and reflected on several key themes in our lives. The constant beauty and challenges of fatherhood, continuing to better our health for the love of our kids and family, laughing about being two brothers in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire, exploring the woods learning this whole camping thing, (ha!), far from the paved streets and cracked sidewalks of JP and Boston. What neither of us knew was that this walk would be our last opportunity to be together. Just a few days later, Thomas J. Ruffen’s life was tragically cut short.

In the vibrant tapestry of Boston's neighborhoods, few threads shine as brightly as the legacy of Thomas J. Ruffen. His selection in 2021 as a Boston Neighborhood Fellow was a deserved recognition of a lifetime spent in selfless service, touching lives with a love so warm, bright and luminous it reminded me of the summer sun back home in the Caribbean. And Thomas was a beaming sun, indeed, the radiant center of our community's universe—a source of light and warmth around which we danced, rejoiced, and grew.

Thomas's story is one of unwavering commitment to the growth and improvement of every life he touched. His legacy is etched in the countless stories of those whose burdens were lightened by his kindness. Whether through relentless advocacy, mentorship, or simply by offering a listening ear and cracking a quick joke, Thomas embodied authentic community leadership.

In this spirit, the Thomas J. Ruffen Community Leadership Fund was established “to cultivate and support emerging Boston area community leaders just like Thomas who are: committed to their community, wanting to implement new ideas, and need an initial source of financial support to get their initiative going.” The fund stands as a testament to his belief in the power of collective action and grassroots leadership. It has ignited a new generation of community leaders, each a reflection of Thomas's spirit. They are the dancers in the light he left behind, moving to the rhythm of his enduring influence.

As we cherish the legacy of Thomas J. Ruffen, it's essential to spotlight this year's remarkable recipients of the Thomas J. Ruffen Community Leadership Fund, each embodying the spirit of community service and innovation that Thomas so passionately championed.

Daniel Laurent: Amplifying Voices and Empowering Communities
Daniel Laurent is a multifaceted artist and filmmaker deeply committed to enhancing the Black community's economic power. His recent project, "Cry for Me," is a poignant short film addressing domestic violence and sexual abuse, utilizing his artistic platform to amplify critical social issues. Daniel's dedication to intentional living and economic empowerment aligns seamlessly with the ethos of Thomas J. Ruffen, reflecting a shared commitment to tangible, grassroots change.

Dr. Heang Leung Rubin: Capturing Stories, Healing Through Art
Dr. Heang Leung Rubin, transitioning from a career in academia to creative entrepreneurship, is another inspirational recipient. With her project focusing on the Chinatown library's history, she weaves a narrative of love, hope, and resilience, values deeply resonant with Mr. Ruffen's life work. Her commitment to storytelling as a tool for community healing and engagement symbolizes the transformative power of the Thomas J. Ruffen Community Leadership Fund.

Thomas Ruffen
Thomas J. Ruffen
Thomas Ruffen fund collage
The 2023 recipients of support from The Thomas J. Ruffen Fund include (clockwise from top left) Daniel Laurent, Dr. Heang Leung Rubin, Garrick Thames and Shamilia Lloyd (photos courtesy of recipients) 

Shamilia Lloyd: From Education to Empowerment
Shamilia Lloyd's journey as an educator and volunteer has led her to an impactful role in the Charlestown Resident Alliance. Her project, "Let The Youth Into the Kitchen," provides youth with opportunities to share and hone their culinary passions and skills, giving them the tools to create recipes, build sustainable meal plans and support proper nutrition for themselves, their loved ones and their community. This exemplifies the Fund's vision by fostering innovation and community involvement. Shamilia's work demonstrates the profound impact that targeted support and resources can have in realizing one's dreams and contributing meaningfully to community welfare.

Garrick Thames: Transforming Challenges into Community Strength
Garrick Thames, whose life experiences have shaped his dedication to community service, represents a story of transformation and resilience. His organization, "Lives Are Meant To Be Changed” focuses on assisting returning citizens and community members with personal challenges through consulting, mentoring, and educational workshops that provides a positive path and helps alleviate the long-standing residual effects of mass incarceration and school-to-prison pipelines that have far too often negatively impacted our communities. Mr. Thames primary focus is to empower others by helping them make and meet expectations in both their personal and professional lives. This grant enables him to expand his reach, underscoring the Fund's role in nurturing leaders who make a tangible difference in their communities.

Through their diverse projects and unwavering commitment, these awardees both honor the memory of Thomas J. Ruffen and actively continue his work. They represent the vibrant future of community leadership, a future that Thomas envisioned and toward which he tirelessly worked. Their stories are beacons of hope and inspiration, showing us all the power of dedicated community service and the lasting impact of leaders like Thomas.

Let us take a moment to stand in the warmth of Thomas's light, a sun that never truly sets but continues to inspire through the lives he shaped, the leaders he fostered, and now through the fund bearing his name. The Thomas J. Ruffen Community Leadership Fund ensures that the celebration goes on, and the warmth of community remains a force as constant and comforting as the sun itself.

To learn more about the Thomas J. Ruffen Fund or make a donation, you can visit The Fund provides initial one-time funding support for emerging leaders across the Boston area who are ready to lead and launch their new efforts across sectors (civic, service, or entrepreneurship). It next opens for applications in January 2024.

Vetto Casado is Assistant Director, Shifting Power and Advancing Justice at the Boston Foundation. He oversees the Boston Neighborhood Fellows program as part of his work in the Foundation's Amplifying Community Leadership pathway.