Dennis Plummer is the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Homelessness Project (MHP) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The program provides a 74-bed shelter and supportive services to help residents move on to stable, permanent, affordable housing.
As the leader of a large organization, Dennis recognizes the importance of building self-care and stillness into his own life. It gives him strength to draw on during a hectic workday. Dennis shares that it is important for him as a leader to share opportunities for practicing self-care with MHP’s entire staff.
In addition to regular vacation time, each staff is given one day off quarterly. It is a day strictly for self-care. Staff members check in with each other after self-care days to share their experiences. “We each take time to be intentional about restoring ourselves. This is a paid vacation day that honors self-care.”
Dennis is certified as a hypnotherapist and practices meditation daily. “I do breathing meditations for a half-hour or an hour before work. It is always evolving,” says Dennis. It is a vital part of his day, and when he neglects it, he says he pays for it. He says laughing, “My mind is a monkey and it controls me.”
He has not always meditated every morning. Initially, it was simply about the practice of sitting still. “Once I was able to sit still long enough, I realized all the noise was in my head and I understood that I must learn to sit to quiet my mind,” shares Dennis. For Dennis, meditation is about engaging his own spirit. He has been trained in many forms of meditation and currently practices Za-Zen meditation. “My mind thinks thoughts, but it doesn’t mean they are correct. I may have a thousand thoughts around one emotion. In this technique, I name as many as I can and observe how these thoughts sit in my body.”
When he is done describing and acknowledging his believed thoughts, there is little left of the emotion and he is in a place to observe his thoughts in a non-judgmental manner. This intentional attention to stilling the mind has a positive impact on his workday. He may be in a meeting and experience strong emotional responses to tension or conflict. He will draw on his meditation practice from the morning and move to a place of simply observing his thoughts. Everything lightens.
In addition to stillness, Dennis has lived a life full of movement. He has worked in Romania, walked from coast to coast for three years, joined a carnival, worked on yachts, lived with an Amish family, lived with people experiencing homelessness, and spent three years as a monk at a monastery in Cambridge, MA.
Because he wanted to understand the people who experience homelessness and the systems that are working to end homelessness, Dennis chose to live in shelters, walk the streets of Chicago in January, sleep under bridges, and crawl into trash bins for warmth. He was shocked by shelter systems and was drawn to the people who drew him to human services from the start. “I love people in general. Working in homeless services is a gift. It is a powerful way to be engaged in work that is about people and helps people,” says Dennis.
Dennis is inspired by the knowledge that ending homelessness is possible. While he understands the need for shelters, he notes that that it is more cost-effective and healthy for people to pursue housing. “There may be people who choose to live outdoors for years. But anyone who wants housing should be able to have it,” says Dennis.
“What I love about our shelter is that we have two people on staff working with 74 men on any given night. It is a shared space. I shake everyone’s hand. There is an atmosphere of respect here,” says Dennis.
Dennis shares the story of one man who impacted his life. The man was 91 years old and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Dennis helped care for him. The man would say things in unique ways, offering Dennis new perspectives.
One day it was windy and his friend said, “I wonder if I am getting a new head today?” The question has stayed with Dennis as a reminder that he never has to be stuck in his old ways of thinking. There is always the opportunity for a new head. His friend also shared, “you don’t have to humor the clouds.” Dennis carries this insight with him as a reminder that it may rain whether he wants it to or not. It reminds him that it is not possible to please everyone. Instead, he allows people to be exactly who they are.
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