William & Mary

A seat at the table

  • Ruth Jones Nichols wearing a red suit and smiling at the camera
    A solid foundation:  Ruth Jones Nichols ’96 says she uses her strong sociology background, which began at W&M, to guide her work as a social change advocate.  Photo by Dexter D. Cohen, IEI
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The following story originally appeared in the spring 2019 issue of the W&M Alumni Magazine. - Ed.

Ruth Jones Nichols ’96 saw a familiar face in line that day. It was an elder from her childhood church. Years before, the woman was known for filling the bellies and cupboards of fellow church members who needed food. A recent retiree, her money hadn’t stretched as far as she thought it would. On that Friday afternoon, she stood alongside others in line at the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore trying to make ends meet.

It was more than chance that the two women’s paths crossed. It was an answered prayer. Jones Nichols had asked for a sign from God that her new job as CEO of the food bank was where she was meant to be.

“Seeing her reinforced to me that people are in our lines for different reasons,” Jones Nichols says. “Some people are in our lines because of choices they made, some folks are there due to circumstances, others are in our lines because of the context into which they were born, but regardless of why they are in our line we have a responsibility not to just feed them, but to really address the root causes.”

Jones Nichols, who has led the food bank since 2016, was previously the executive director of the YWCA South Hampton Roads. A sociology major while at William & Mary, she says the seeds were planted for her more than 20-year career in the nonprofit sector during her freshman year.

“I want to be a person who brings about systemic change in society — a person who challenges the social structures and the status quo,” says Jones Nichols, who describes herself as a social change advocate. “I want to do that in a way that levels the playing field for marginalized people who have not been represented at the table.”

Read the full story on the W&M Alumni Magazine website.