40 Under 40 The Class of 2014

Ruby Maddox

Assistant Director, Miller Worley Center for the Environment, Mount Holyoke College, age 33

Ruby-Maddox-01Ruby Maddox has always had a heart for the environment. These days, she’s trying to put it at the heart of every student’s experience at Mount Holyoke College.

Her role at the college’s Miller Worley Center for the Environment involves coordinating partnerships with the various academic departments, the community, and national organizations to create on-campus programs, community projects, and learning opportunities for students centered on environmental literacy.

“Our goal is to help students connect to the environment regardless of what academic discipline they’re in, so they understand the implications of their subject of study,” she said. For example, a political science student might learn about land rights, deforestation policy, and other issues. “All these things intersect with the environment so students can have a true liberal-arts education.”

Perhaps more significantly, Maddox spearheaded the creation in 2002 of a youth gardening program in Springfield that evolved into an entity known as Gardening the Community, which is centered on urban agriculture, sustainable living, and youth development.

At the time, she was a theater major at Holyoke Community College, but she was active in community service, and was inspired by a professor’s recommendation to start the gardening program.

“We operate in the Mason Square area and teach kids how to grow food on vacant and abandoned lots,” Maddox said, adding that the program, which also emphasizes building healthy communities and developing youth leadership, recently received a grant from the Mass. Department of Agriculture, and is one of the only urban community-supported agriculture programs in the area. “We employ about 30 youth each summer. It exposes them to the fact that building community is possible, and that they can be producers and not just consumers.”

Today, she still serves as chair of the GTC board of directors, while also maintaining a blog, thecbosector.wordpress.com, that focuses on community-based organizations with an emphasis on urban philanthropy. She has also volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and was an organizing committee member for the Undoing Racism Organizing Collective in Springfield.

In other words, Maddox believes in helping urban young people build a healthier future, in every way.

“My big thing is experiential learning, both for youth and adults,” she said. “I love my work.”

— Joseph Bednar