Photo by Isaac Harrell
At the end of the month, Boaz & Ruth founder Martha Rollins is stepping down from her position as president/CEO of the faith-based nonprofit, which aims to transform the Highland Park neighborhood while providing job-skills and life training for the formerly incarcerated and others needing a second chance. It was 10 years ago that Boaz & Ruth opened its first venture. Today, the organization operates a number of initiatives out of several buildings and houses in the neighborhood, including its original home-furnishings thrift store, a moving business, a secondhand clothing shop, a restaurant with a catering arm, and a renovation and construction program. Rollins, who's looking forward to spending time with her three children and their families, including four grandchildren, emphasizes that she's stepping down, not retiring. We talked to her over lunch at Boaz & Ruth's Firehouse 15 Café in late October.
RM: Even though you're stepping down, will you still be involved with Boaz & Ruth?
MR: Obviously I believe in this vision, and I care a lot about this neighborhood. It's not a job, it's a community that I belong to. My goal is to be able to be here enough not to lose the community that means a lot to me, but not to have my presence be overbearing for the new people.
RM: Do you have any advice for the next president?
MR: Probably in the midst of it, I'll have lots of advice. [Laughs.] That's why I have to stay away, so I keep my mouth shut — I really work hard on that. My prayer would be really for the search committee, and my wish is that the next leader has the same values and vision for this place. How they do it, I know will be different. It's not about houses, it's not about businesses, it's really about how do we create a meaningful presence within our organization, with our partners and with the community.
RM: What are you planning on doing next?
MR: I'm going to have some fun things planned. I'm helping our church plan a trip following the footsteps of [the Apostle] Paul in Turkey. I love doing that.
I don't know where it will be, but I do want to maybe speak with a loud voice on some social issues. I think when you're CEO of something, you sometimes can't use the platform quite as freely, and
I really do care about issues of social justice a lot. If I can still think, you'll hear from me. [Laughs.]
RM: I saw a statement from you noting that you learned a lot about leadership from riding horses. What lessons did you take from the sport?
MR: I haven't ridden in about a year and a half. My goal had been to ride a 100-mile horse race before I was too old. I've ridden a 50-mile one. I might revive that; I just need to see how my body does. To do that, you have to ride regularly, and this took over my personal life. We keep the horses up in Martinsville, but they're aging, too, though. [Laughs.] In endurance riding, the word is, "To finish is to win." It's not about being first, it's about completion, it's about perseverance. That's a big thing.
- Upon moving to Richmond in 1968, Rollins and her husband, Randy, bought a house in the Carillon neighborhood that's still their home today.
- Rollins is a breast-cancer survivor, having undergone a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with the disease in 1994.
- A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Duke University as a religion major, Rollins also earned a master of arts in teaching degree from the school.