Lifelong Minneapolitan Dorothea Harris is a (LICSW) Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, serving as the program director for Culturally Responsive Caregiver Support and Dementia Services at Volunteers of America MN/WI
I was born and raised in Minneapolis. I believe they call that homegrown? That is me. North Minneapolis. I grew up around Plymouth Avenue. I went to John Hay and Lincoln and graduated from North High.
I know the city quite well. I have spent some time in South Minneapolis as well. But my office is in North Minneapolis. That is still my community. Chicken and ribs. Breaking Bread. I’m just your average Northside girl. I feel like my calling and my purpose is right here in Minneapolis.
Volunteers of America’s mission is to help people gain self reliance, dignity and hope. That touches my heart. I’ve been with Volunteers of America for 15 years. I work with caregivers, so many of them feel invisible when they’re selflessly giving an enormous amount of time and care. We provide evidence-based caregiver interventions, support groups, Individual and family coaching and counseling services, respite services, and much more.
We also work with community elders, with an aim to delay nursing home placement and make sure that people have access to community services in their homes. Our programs are focused on elders of color. I’ve worked with the African American population for many years. More recently, the Hmong community as well as East African, SomalI and Oromo communities. Our helpline is in four different languages.
I feel like my job is to help people to see that we are our brothers’ keepers. And that we keep aging. You’re going to need some help. Everybody is going to need some help. They need to know that now, so that they can put some plans together. I want to be able to help do that.
My career has really evolved. I started off working with foster children for some time. I worked in the school system. Then I was at home doing nothing for a while. I’ll call it a sabbatical!
I had a friend that was a director of the senior programs at Volunteers of America. She asked me if I would come and just learn the job. I sat down and learned the position and I’ve been there for 15 years. It just sat with me, and just resonated when I started working with the elders. It felt so natural. I feel so honored to be able to serve my elders. I am finishing up seven years of caring for my grandmother who lived to be 98. She lived in my home with my spouse and I, so I understand how important comfort and family are.
I’m hoping that we will be a model of a community of people that finally get it — finally understand that there’s only one race and it’s the human race. Meanwhile, until we get it right, I will honor my ancestors, and continue the struggle for equality for people of color. They’ve worked to show us how to do that, and have died doing that. We have to forge forward.
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