Seniors and Alums Share Their Love For Rhodes’ Intentional Living Community

Ruka members and alumnae at Rhodes Homecoming

Of the many hidden treasures that Rhodes offers, the Ruka, an intentional living community, may be among the greatest. Created in 2010, the goal of the Ruka house is fourfold—for participants to live sustainably, to love each other intentionally, to love the Rhodes community and, finally, to love the Memphis community. Professor Bernadette McNary-Zak, the program’s faculty sponsor, serves as an advisor for Ruka residents and meets with the group once a week to ensure that these goals are being carried out.

Furthermore, each resident harbors a distinct responsibility in achieving the group’s mission. For instance, Lauren Hales ’15 spearheads the group’s sustainability initiative maintaining close relations with nearby Urban Farms and the downtown farmer’s market and maintaining a garden at the Ruka house. To show love for one another, the residents also partake in weekly meetings as a group and one-on-one ‘buddy time’ with another person in the house. Sarah Koehler ’15, the house scribe, says the meetings remind her of how “rewarding it is to live with such a diverse group of people who are so passionate about so many different things.” Abbey Judd ’15, the Rhodes liaison, helps to ensure that the group is well integrated into the Rhodes community by promoting and hosting events for Rhodes students and professors. Iris Mercado ’15 serves as a liaison between the Memphis community and the housemates, who volunteer weekly at Caritas village, an intentional living community in Binghampton. Finally, Claire Coulter ’15 ensures that the group is in good financial health by serving as treasurer. This distribution of responsibilities allows Ruka members to both achieve the mission of the community while also honing skills for the future and learning from each other’s positions.

Of course, participants admit that it is not always easy to live “so intentionally.” Koehler says that “if you are having a bad day or a bad week, it can be so easy to let that affect your mood and how you treat others.” However, she goes on to say that being a part of a community like the Ruka helps her to be more “mindful of what is important to other people.”

This has certainly held true for Ruka alumna Sarah Dockery Galaro ’11 and Robin Richardson ’12. In fact, Galaro claims that “the Ruka was one of the most significant learning experiences of her college career.” “Into all of my relationships since Rhodes (including my marriage), I carry a willingness to be vulnerable and the understanding that sometimes authentic relationships require uncomfortable conversations. The Ruka taught me not to fear those conversations, and that sincere community is far more powerful than the comfortable, convenient alternative,” she says. Richardson supports this notion and says, “After my time with the Ruka, I′ve become more conscious about how I interact with the environment and with other people. For example, composting and recycling in the Ruka taught me to be more mindful about how I use things like food and hygiene products and to cut down waste. I′ve also become more personally responsible for things, holding myself accountable for things that I do that might not go according to plan instead of looking for something to blame.”

Koehler and Coulter agree that the abilities they have cultivated to build friendships, volunteer regularly, and remain environmentally conscious will resonate with them beyond their college careers. Hales has even chosen to live in an intentional community again next year, following her graduation from Rhodes.

Overall, group members say their experience in the Ruka has not only impacted their relationship with each other but also has strengthened their involvement in the Memphis community through working with Caritas Village.