At Urban Edge, each department places a crucial role in creating affordable homes and building wealth for the families and communities we serve. In this series, we’ll get to know who heads up each of our three departments: Community Programs, Community Engagement, and Real Estate Development.
This second installment of the series will introduce Durrell J. Harris, Associate Director of Community Engagement.
“This work is important because it gives me a space to advocate for change. A lot of things are transactional in today’s society, and I’m more interested in spending my time helping people move forward in a positive direction.”
Durrell Harris has been with Urban Edge for two and a half years, and he loves being able to help our community grow. Durrell works in our Community Engagement department where he is able to actively support and engage directly with the people we serve.
After over 9 years of work in the nonprofit field, Durrell has found that nonprofit work not only allows him to support and strengthen existing communities, but also allows him to explore and join these communities himself. When he first moved to Boston from New Jersey, he found that doing nonprofit work helped him become familiar with his new community. It helped him build family, friends, and connections.
“In nonprofit work, you can see first hand what people in the community are concerned about, what they’re prioritizing. I am constantly reminded by our clients/ residents why I do this work. I’m committed to community – a supportive space helps us all grow.”
In addition to his work at Urban Edge, Durrell spends much of his time working with his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, inc., where he is the Graduate Chapter President. “This fraternity is rooted in friendship and community. It’s about people giving back, and coming together with a like-minded goal. The fact that we can come together so easily and achieve so much is a beautiful thing.”
With his fraternity, Durrell takes part in events like turkey donation drives, holiday toy giveaways, food pantries, fundraising events for school scholarships, and more. “This work ties right in to the work I do at Urban Edge – they are both giving back to the community, just in different capacities.”
At Urban Edge, Durrell is most excited about his department’s new partnership with EMPath (Economic Mobility Pathways). EMPath is providing the Community Engagement department with a new training program that focuses on “finding the balance between meeting people where they are at while also encouraging healthy shifts, like creating financial stability and economic mobility.” Several staff members have completed this new training and have reported positive feedback. More staff will take it over the next few months, and by this summer, everyone on the team will be trained.
Over the past year, Durell and Urban Edge’s Community Engagement team provided many avenues of support to families in the Greater Boston area. In 2022, 30 families graduated from our Strong Start program, which helps parents find new strategies to support their children’s learning. The CE team helped our families file 398 taxes, which injected $1M+ into the local economy. More than 1,000 Thanksgiving meals, holiday toys, and backpacks were distributed during the back-to-school season and the holidays. Our team connected 250 families to $500k in rental assistance. And lastly, Community Engagement piloted a “bridging the digital divide” program which pairs older adults with youth, helping to increase digital literacy.
When asked about recent successes in his department, Durrell cited his team’s response to the pandemic: “I’m proud of how we navigated the pandemic, and how we are navigating getting back to some kind of normalcy. It’s exciting that we are able to find a balance between meeting the needs of our residents and the concerns of our staff. We were able to stick to our mission while also responding to the concerns of the people delivering that mission.”
“My favorite part about working at Urban Edge is the people I work with. I don’t think everyone is always necessarily on the same page, but I value the respectful environment that we share and the common goal that we are working towards. I’m so appreciative of this.”