The JOY Senior Center is fortunate to have Monica Reveles Duran running it. She grew up in a home that valued service to others as a basic virtue.
“My mom always pushed community and volunteerism into us,” Duran said. “Lord knows she donated many hours to the community, school and the church. She never got into the dynamics of how things worked, so the administrative side of this work has been the real eye opener.”
“One of my sisters was working here,” she said. “I’m number 10 of 13 siblings. They had lost their housekeepers and she asked if I could come help her for the day. I said, ‘Sure!’”
She must have made an impression.
“Olivia Reed was the director at the time. She offered me a job as a substitute,” Duran said. “I was delivering meals and transporting people.”
One day, a co-worker shared an important insight with her.
“I rode along with a lady,” Duran said, “and she said, ‘We’re the same, you and me.’ I asked how and she said, ‘We both lost our mamas at a young age, so we’re going to live through the things we didn’t get to live with our parents, through these seniors.’ I realized she was right. I took the receptionist job when it came up.”
Typical of a service-minded person, Duran was doing much more than her job required.
“When Charlie Phillips came on board, she said, ‘You’re doing the duties of a site manager,’” Duran said. “So I learned a lot of new duties as the site manager.”
It’s almost as if she was being groomed for her current position.
“Charlie saw the need for a food service manager,” Duran said, “and moved me into that position.”
As much as she loved working at the JOY Center, Duran knew there were other things she had to do.
“After four years I decided to leave,” she said. “I went to school. I started the Safety Engineering Program. I didn’t complete it because I took on a job with New Mexico Senior Olympics.”
Her time with New Mexico Senior Olympics gave her another point of view about the lives of seniors.
“I spent about five years at Senior Olympics learning all about senior sports and health,” Duran said. “I learned how to drive and back up trailers. I became a professional mover because we were always packing and moving something to another health fair or another tournament.”
She had left a bit of a legacy with those who ran the JOY Center, and they weren’t finished with her yet.
“Charlie visited with me about her need to retire,” Duran said. “So I went back to the JOY Center in September of 2012. Her last day was April 11. It was a bittersweet moment because that is the date my mother passed away.”
Part of getting used to her new job was learning to be comfortable with the authority and the responsibilities.
“Charlie said she wouldn’t come visit,” Duran said. “We wanted her to, but she said, ‘No, you need to be established as the one the seniors come to.’ It was hard, but it was the best thing she could have done. I had to become the leader and the authority.
“I started by having coffee with whoever is in the dining room first thing each morning,” Duran said. “I still do that. We talk about whatever is on their minds. After that I go into the kitchen and say, ‘Good morning and buenos dias’ to everyone in there.”
Duran remembered the day she realized how important the work is to her.
“There was one Saturday,” Duran said. “I was working on my budget. I had been working until 8 or 9 at night. I’d get back by 6 in the morning. I did this for weeks. I was really tired and my husband said, ‘Why don’t you just lay down for a little longer?’ and I said, ‘You don’t understand how many people depend on me.’ That’s when I realized that not only did the seniors depend on me, but I liked it. That’s when I realized my dedication.
“Up until that point I didn’t realize that it was that important to me. Sometimes it’s tough. Sometimes it’s depressing. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love being able to see my seniors every day, to greet them and know that in one way or another I am helping them.”
There was a time, early on, when Duran doubted that she could handle the downside.
“One day, when I was still working for Charlie,” Duran said, “the first senior that I had been close to passed. I was a mess. I was crying. I was like, ‘I just can’t do this anymore Charlie, I have to quit.’ She said, ‘Our job is to see them at the end of their lives. Whether that’s a week, a day or a few years, if you made a difference in their life, you did your job. Because you’re going to lose them. That is the stage of life that they’re in. But did you do the best that you could for them? If the answer is yes then this is where you belong.’”
Duran knows where she got the heart to do this work.
“We had a neighbor who was morbidly obese and had diabetes,” Duran said. “Mom would go and walk with her, get her out of the house and encourage her to do as the doctor said. Since I was 6 she raised us as a single parent. Every single one of my brothers and sisters is successful in that we can take care of ourselves and our responsibilities.
“I have a sister who’s been working at Assurance Home since she was 18. She’s almost 60 now. I ask her, ‘How do you talk to teenagers?’ She has this young-at-heart personality. She said to me, ‘I have a hard time talking to older people.’ I love what I do, so it doesn’t feel like work.”
She has one regret.
“I was 19 when Mom passed,” she said. “My biggest struggle is that my pride and joy is my children and she only got to meet the oldest. Now I have a little grandson.”
Duran’s philosophy of life is that success is within everyone’s reach.
“I love for community service people to come here,” she said, “or the people from Career Link. They just need that bump up. I don’t care what walk of life you came from, if you want to succeed in life you can. Success means that you are doing the best you can. I think we can change the world by making people understand that. Let’s celebrate the best in each other.”
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.