- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2016

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) - She’s no muckety-muck. Not a CEO or a developer or a college president or a wealthy philanthropist. Roanoke’s 2016 Citizen of the Year lives in public housing.

She works a third shift call center job, raises five kids, two of whom are disabled, with her husband of 18 years, who is also disabled.

But Jamice Rudd is also the heartbeat of a grass-roots effort that has pulled in $115,000 in grant funds and supplied more than 250 of Roanoke’s elderly poor with dental work, dentures and eyeglasses when government health care would not.

Between being a mother and her full-time job, she has driven people to Bedford and Charlottesville in her own van at her own expense.

And with that, she perfectly suited the Roanoke City Council’s desire to use the Citizen of the Year award to honor not only those influential on a grand scale, but, as Mayor Sherman Lea put it, those “doing what they can with what they have.”

“Every day can be a struggle around here, but someone else is always struggling more than we are,” said Rudd, 40. “I’m just a person like everyone else. I would like to think what I do, someone else would do if they had the opportunity.”

Rudd grew up in Washington state, near the Canadian border.

She arrived in Roanoke nearly 20 years ago, 19 years old, pregnant, and looking for a place to start over. She had family in Waynesboro, and learned Virginia Western Community College might be a good spot to start her education.

Rudd met her husband of 18 years in Roanoke and had four more children. They’ve lived in public housing during most of her time here, while she worked through her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and most of the way through a master’s degree in accounting, both from Liberty University.

In 2008, her husband was in a car crash that left him permanently disabled.

“Before that we were quite the team,” Rudd said. They worked opposite hours to care for the five children, with ages ranging from 7 to 20. Rudd’s oldest son is disabled from a traumatic brain injury, she said, but he graduated from William Fleming High School and has a full-time job at a car wash. Her 15-year-old daughter, a freshman at Fleming, suffers from lung disease.

Rudd works nights from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. taking calls for HSN, the online and television retailer.

Between all that, she works 20 to 30 hours a week for the resident council at Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Bluestone apartments, of which she is president, and for the authority’s Joint Residents Council, of which she is treasurer and outreach coordinator. Both groups are composed of residents of city’s public housing developments.

It was through the nonprofit JRC that she got involved with helping seniors with their dentures and eyeglasses.

About two years ago, members of the council noticed how many elderly neighbors needed dentures and eyeglasses but couldn’t afford them because Medicaid and Medicare wouldn’t cover them.

So the group set out to help. They won a $40,000 grant from the Foundation for Roanoke Valley that could be spent exclusively on dentures and glasses for public housing residents, sought out providers who would do the work for patients at a discount, and organized transportation.

For dentures, they worked first with a clinic in Bedford, and then with another in Charlottesville. Often, Rudd ferried patients to their appointments, made sure they had food while they were there and got them back home.

The program was so successful, the Foundation for Roanoke Valley awarded a second grant of $75,000 to continue the program for a year and expand it to other Roanoke area residents.

Rudd said the group has done some additional fundraising to defray operating costs, and also instituted a $15 application fee.

“It’s just been a blessing to see the faces of the people who really have the need and to hear their stories.to see that it really helps change somebody’s life,” Rudd said.

Some have not had dental care since they were children, she said. Others lost their independence because they can’t see without glasses.

Seniors who had become reclusive slowly return to society when they have these needs met, Rudd said.

“They don’t believe they’re getting free help. They’re like, ‘Are you guys for real?’ ” Rudd said. “Then there are those who feel like we owe them something.”

In July the program was among the recipients of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials award for resident and client services.

The program is “an example of all kinds of good things,” said RRHA Executive Director Glenda Edwards Goh, who made the nomination.

“It challenges stereotypes . about for people in public housing they too often get viewed as people who take from taxpayers, not giving back,” Goh said.

The program is also amazing for its simple, direct, unbureaucratic way of connecting people in need with resources, Goh said. The application for the program is a single page.

Rudd and the program were also honored at Roanoke’s annual neighborhood awards. That’s where Roanoke City Council members learned about Rudd. Councilman Bill Bestpitch offered her name when it came time to choose a citizen of the year.

Bestpitch said Rudd’s work “reminds us that there are so many good people . who are really working hard to make their community a better place to live.”

Rudd said she’s lifted by the recognition the award brings, but won’t let it go to her head, she said.

“I like to stay humble, because it keeps me grounded,” she said. “And there’s still a lot of work to do.”


Information from: The Roanoke Times, https://www.roanoke.com

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