“My calling is to help,” says Dorenda “DeDe” Durr. DeDe is a volunteer engagement specialist, based at Moore Place, one of Roof Above’s permanent supportive housing sites.
Originally from Texas, she moved out west as a teenager and has been traveling the world since. Previously in her career, DeDe fulfilled her desire to help others by becoming a teacher. She’s taught English internationally. Morocco is her favorite country. She loves the culture. She says it’s simpler and they have an appreciation for everything.
DeDe has four children and six granddaughters. She decided to return to Charlotte to be near her family after the pandemic because her family brings her peace.
As she settled into Charlotte, she saw many people experiencing homelessness and felt a nudge to help. She began to research ways to get involved, and Roof Above popped up. After reading more about the organization, DeDe tapped into her purpose to be a helper and applied for a shelter specialist position at Howard Levine Men’s Shelter.
She learned so much, especially about people. She says, “It opened my eyes to what homelessness really is. I had no idea how traumatic it could be and that it takes a lot of people to help.”
When DeDe was promoted to supervisor, she says, “I had to be responsible, to know when someone was hurting, to listen more. Not only was I dealing with the feelings of the guests, I was also dealing with the feelings of the staff.” When someone is struggling, DeDe says, “I remember that person is human.”
She says, “I want people to stop taking the word human out of humanity. We’re not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. It doesn’t make us less human. It makes us more human.”
DeDe has now transitioned into a new role as a volunteer engagement specialist. In addition to supporting her team and the tenants, she now helps volunteers too.
She says, “I love that our team has volunteer orientation. It’s showing them our world of volunteering. We do activities, and we get personal with the tenants, guests, and neighbors.”
DeDe’s effervescent charm, illuminating smile, and welcoming laugh make her a natural connector of people. She says, “When the volunteers see you laugh with tenants, they remember that they’re human, and they think, ‘I can go over there and do the same thing. I can laugh with them too.’ They step out of their shell because they see you do it.”
DeDe believes hope and trust are two key ingredients to ending homelessness. “Hope comes from the heart. It’s a spiritual thing, a heartfelt thing. We’re all homeless. Our hearts and our minds are our homes, and we’re all building our houses.”
She says, “I’m going to help build while I’m here.” Laughter is one of DeDe’s favorite ways to build up others. She wakes up laughing.
She says, “I don’t judge people for their circumstances or their situation. Whatever got you here, it’s not my concern. My concern is how we interact. I will always respect you.”
When asked about the similarities between her different roles at Roof Above, she says, “I’m always dealing with people, and that’s what I love. If I put a smile on one person’s face every day, I’m OK. I can sleep well when I go home. But if I made somebody miserable during the day, I need to reflect on me. Because that’s not what the sun comes up for.”
DeDe says, “I love what I do, and I’m gonna do it to the best of my ability. I love being the person to help, to participate and show volunteers that it’s okay. I want to connect neighbors to neighbors, like this. I want volunteers to see it’s okay to come here, to say hello, to smile at tenants, to shake someone’s hand. I want people to start realizing that it’s okay to be human.”