Cara (Osterberg) Ruff '92
Helping disabled people live independently
Cara (Osterberg) Ruff '92 is an award-winning social worker and entrepreneur.
Cara (Osterberg) Ruff '92 is living proof of the adage "when one door closes, another opens."
Ruff was serving Central Minnesota's disabled population as a licensed social worker when her employer closed. Collaborating with other staff members, she set up a new organization. For several months the group volunteered, some working in their garages.
The organization incorporated in 1997 as Independent Lifestyles, Inc., to serve people with disabilities in St. Cloud and nine surrounding counties. Among other services, Sauk Rapids-based Independent Lifestyles assists with home and vehicle modification.
When state funding for Independent Lifestyles was threatened in 2003, Ruff organized public meetings, testified at a Senate hearing and had customers bring success stories to lawmakers and the media. Funding was restored and Ruff earned the 2004 Paul and Sheila Wellstone Award for Social Justice, one of Minnesota's most prestigious service awards.
As executive director, Ruff has guided Independent Lifestyles’ growth to 110 staff members, a $2.2 million annual budget and a branch office in Little Falls.
Ruff chairs the St. Cloud Regional Human Rights Commission.
She is the founding director of the Starfish Program, which provides mentoring and stipends for women who have experienced abuse, domestic violence and/or sexual assault. Ruff’s personal history of childhood molestation motivated her to develop the cost-free program to help women abandon victimhood and develop skills to achieve their goals.
At St. Cloud State, Ruff earned a bachelor's degree in social work.