Before creating GROWTH Foundation in California, Deana Ruggieri earned her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York. It was there Deana discovered her passion for community service. She interned as an advocate for the poor at the Finger Lakes Equal Justice Association, volunteered on the geriatric ward at the Rochester Psychiatric Center, served meals in St. Bridget’s Church homeless shelter, and aided residents at Kirkhaven Nursing Home. Upon arrival in Los Angeles, Deana continued her volunteer service by canvassing for a city council member and fundraising for an animal rights organization.
Deana earned her Master’s degree in Public Administration from California State University, Los Angeles. She was Quality Manager at an award-winning, city funded workforce development center that helped displaced workers find training and gainful employment. As a result, she was a featured speaker at the Department of Labor’s National Conference on Quality & Continuous Improvement, and other regional conventions.
Deana was inspired to teach and began work on a special education credential. For five years, she taught language arts to teenage girls with social and emotional issues and mild to moderate learning disabilities at AVIVA Family & Children’s Services in Hollywood. Deana was promoted to lead teacher and found innovative ways to inspire an interest in community service in her students. A lover of the outdoors, Deana introduced Nature Appreciation to the curriculum which included projects with the City of LA Recreation & Parks Department and led to the creation of the Ladybug Litter Clean-up Crew and Top of the Mountain Club. Introducing students to volunteer work expanded their view of the world and of themselves, and had a profound impact. Not only did it build self-esteem, but also, taught the students to make the important connection between their own mental and physical health, and the health of their surroundings.
Realizing that at-risk youth were often most vulnerable after the school day ended, Deana left the classroom to create GROWTH Foundation and its multi-faceted after school program. GROWTH provided ’round the clock academic and support services to local youth in need. Deana instilled the spirit of service in the girls of GROWTH through numerous volunteer activities. Deana served on the Board of Directors of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council as the Youth & Recreation Chair and Secretary of the Board of Directors for the Woman’s Club of Hollywood. In both roles, she created and provided oversight for enriching projects to connect at-risk youth with their community.
As a published author, Deana co-wrote Children of War: The Mike Rodriguez Story, which provides a therapeutic platform for victims of abuse and addiction so they can tell their stories to facilitate healing. Deana is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators and has authored a picture book series called The Dog Stories, and a middle grade picture book titled My Hair: The Long and Short of It, which she is currently shopping to publishers.