Matthew Rutman, M.A.T. ’03
Man with a mission
When Matthew Rutman, M.A.T. ‘03, graduated from high school in San Diego, Calif., he had a general interest in serving others. Just over a decade later, Rutman has found two quite specific ways to fulfill his interest – as an elementary-school teacher and as the founder of a nonprofit organization serving the citizens of Guatemala.
In 1995, Rutman moved to Oregon to work in an AmeriCorps program that included service at an elementary school. After just a few months at the school, he “realized what a joy it was to work with kids.” When several young girls cried as he said goodbye to their class, Rutman said the experience solidified his desire to become a grade-school teacher.
The girls’ tears “really hit me in the heart,” he said, particularly when their teacher told Rutman how each girl had struggled with a negligent, nonexistent or abusive father. “I was the first positive male role model they’d ever had. I realized how great a need there is for men to become teachers in elementary schools, and it reaffirmed in me a sense of purpose, the sense that I could make a difference.”
Although he knew he would teach eventually, Rutman’s journey, which already included travel in Mexico and a year in the California Conservation Corps, would take a few more turns. His next step was a trip to Guatemala. The country endured a 35-year civil war that ended with peace accords signed in 1996. Knowing this, Rutman entered Guatemala to help with the massive rebuilding effort. He worked for Habitat for Humanity during the day and at a shelter for homeless boys at night, but he said he still had energy to do more. “I was looking for a project to sink my teeth into,” he said. His chance came in a rural, indigenous community, where several people asked him to help raise funds for a new school to replace the windowless classroom they used at the time.
“These were the sweetest, most generous and caring people I’d ever met,” he said, “and they needed help.” Rutman organized benefit dinners and concerts in a nearby town and wrote a grant that won support from the U.S.-based Daniele Augustino Foundation. Soon, the village of Pasac Segundo had bought land and built a modern school, and Rutman said he felt a greater sense of the difference his efforts could make.
When Rutman returned to the U.S. “flat broke,” he joined Washington’s Forest Service, and in the summer of 2001, he was one of 14 firefighters involved in the infamous Thirty-Mile Fire. Four of the 14 firefighters died and, Rutman said, “We were all injured in some way.” He turned his anger and frustration with the mistakes that led to the tragedy into resolve. “It shook me up and made me realize I could die at any time. I figured I should do things now that I’d always wanted to do.”
As the deadly summer turned to winter, Rutman sat in front of a computer, conducting research – “my therapy” he called it – about how to form a nonprofit organization. The result was Partners in Solidarity, a volunteer-led effort that supports social programs, education, and health care efforts in Guatemala.
A year later, in January 2003, Rutman entered Pacific’s yearlong M.A.T. program at the Eugene campus, fulfilling his second goal of becoming a teacher. “I went out of my way to get my money’s worth and use that school to make my dream come true.”
Rutman, who now teaches fifth grade at the Village School – a Waldorf-inspired public charter school in Eugene – said he believes in a connected world, one where the young people he teaches in Oregon aren’t so far removed from those he helps in Guatemala. The people in Guatemala, he said, “want what we want: access to education, health care, opportunities, a say in how things are. The difference is simply their lack of basic materials to make their dreams come true.”