Beyond the Handshake
Meet Delia Duran-Clark of the Mill Cities Leadership Institute
Delia Duran-Clark calls herself a bridge.
The label fits. Embedded in her nature is a desire to reach out and connect to others.
That trait was a driving force behind Duran-Clark’s creation of monthly dinners for friends, students and colleagues.
It’s amazing that Duran-Clark can find the time to shop for the get-togethers, never mind host. In addition to her full-time job as executive director of the Mill Cities Leadership Institute (MCLI), she is an adjunct professor of diversity and social justice at Merrimack College and a social work field adviser at Boston College.
“You have to go beyond the handshake,” she says. “I don’t stop when it comes to making human connections.”
In June, Duran-Clark, 49, marked her one-year anniversary at the helm of MCLI, an organization that seeks to boost entrepreneurship in Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill. It has operated from Lawrence CommunityWorks since 2013.
“I feel that this was a year of learning,” she says. “It was everything I thought it would be and more.”
Duran-Clark acknowledges that there have been challenges, including the need to become comfortable with fundraising. She’s become adept at grant-writing and has embraced the opportunity to learn about philanthropy.
“It’s taken me to a whole new level of learning,” she says. “For me, learning is for life. Education is for life.”
The job at MCLI has also been a way to return home for Duran-Clark, a resident of Andover. Born in the Dominican Republic, she moved to Lawrence at the age of 12 and graduated from high school at age 16. She earned degrees in early childhood education from Northern Essex Community College and Lesley College (now Lesley University). During her time in college, Duran-Clark says she began to experience an identity crisis. Was she Dominican? Was she American? Where did she fit in?
In 1998, Duran-Clark received a master’s degree in social work from Boston College. After graduation, Duran-Clark returned to the Dominican Republic and earned a degree in school leadership administration and became an elementary school principal.
After two years, she had a realization.
“The Dominican Republic wasn’t home; Lawrence was home,” she says. “Home is where my biggest loves were. It was the most amazing discovery for me. I found my identity when I found where my home was.”
Duran-Clark returned to the Merrimack Valley in 2000. She got married and had children, and in 2014, she accepted what she thought was her dream job as principal of Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School in Lawrence. She was not prepared, however, for the impact the position would have on her family. While she knew all of the students at the school, she realized she didn’t know her own children’s friends. So she left Notre Dame in 2016 and spent the next couple of years balancing numerous jobs, including positions at Boston Colllege and Merrimack and program coordinator at Northern Essex Community College.
Duran-Clark continued to seek ways to grow her community and strengthen her skills. She enrolled in the MCLI leadership class.
Work obligations kept her from completing the 10-month program, but she stayed involved and attended when she could.
When former MCLI director Todd Fry left last year, she was approached about taking over his role.
As she looks ahead, Duran-Clark says she wants to build an alumni board. She also has moved beyond MCLI’s core communities of Lawrence and Lowell and branched into Haverhill. She hopes to further broaden the organization’s scope. This spring, she brought seven MCLI participants on one of her volunteer trips to the Dominican Republic. The group visited jails, orphanages, community agencies and universities. The group was exposed to people who truly have nothing and still do great things, she says.
“With so little, these people do so much,” she says of the lessons she learned from the trip — lessons that continue to inspire her and define her vision of MCLI as it continues to evolve under her leadership.