Updated: Dec 20, 2021
This Women’s History month, we’re excited to celebrate the stories of trailblazing women, whose work and contributions have made a significant impact in our family of companies. Today, we’re celebrating Durinda Haukap.
I was a high school athlete, who in my senior year had already met curriculum requirements for graduation. To continue playing sports, I needed to meet minimum credits or hours equivalent requirements. Since my original aspirations were to become a dentist, the high school guidance counselor recommended a regional occupation training program in dental assisting, which would allow me to learn about the dental industry, earn hours equivalent, and develop a skill that could provide future income.
Upon completion of the dental assisting program, due to my age, I had to petition the State of California to allow me to sit for the Dental Assistant Examination and Dental Radiographic test. At 17 years old, I was the youngest person in California to obtain registration in both.
The summer after graduation, my boyfriend, while driving drunk, rolled the car into the Newport Back Bay. My knees were pinned under the dash and despite successful surgeries, I was told my competitive running days were over. Thus, I lost my university college scholarship altering the course of my education plans.
In the fall, I enrolled in community college. My stint there was short and unsuccessful, mainly from unknown depression due to the accident, losing a scholarship, and the unexpected death of my father. Knowing that I would now be supporting myself, I moved out of my childhood home and started working in pediatric dentistry. For a time, it was nice to be financially independent, but as time went on and my friends were approaching graduation, I felt somewhat jealous and left out.
I decided a change was needed and moved to Northern California, where I secured a job working for an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. It was around that time that I decided to return to college. I was working full-time in the day and started taking one to two night classes per semester.
I met and married my husband a few years after moving up north and became an instant mom. My stepson had Phenylketonuria (PKU), an inborn error of metabolism that causes phenylalanine to build up in the body. I learned how to manage his PKU which included limiting protein in the diet. This is what ultimately piqued my interest in nutrition.
To assist in raising the stepchildren, I started working part-time, which allowed me to work in the mornings and care for them after school, while attending college night classes.
Shortly after the birth of our first child, my husband received a job promotion requiring a move to Mammoth Lakes, a small rural mountain town in California. Life was good. We welcomed another child, and although difficult, I commuted an hour south down to Bishop to continue my education one class at a time.
Down the road, I realized my marriage was going south, and that I would not be able to support my family on a dental assistant’s salary. I decided to apply to university.
College, the second time around
With $3,000 cash earned from shoveling snow, I left Mammoth Lakes with my children and headed to University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). After nine years of taking continuous community college classes, I was ecstatic to be there. Elation quickly turned to deflation after being told by the department’s academic advisor that the clinical dietetics program was extremely competitive, academically challenging, and I would never obtain an internship. He went on to state a better option for a “Mexican and presumably a single mom would be through the Orvis School of Nursing” which had greater financial assistance programs. After a rough start with acclimating to major changes, I settled into my new life and was more determined than ever.
During summer breaks I returned to Placer County, stayed with friends whose teenage girls babysat my kids, worked for the same maxillofacial surgeon, and took a few courses at Sacramento State.
I finally graduated from UNR, 11 years after my return to college, with a bachelor’s in clinical dietetics. The next two years were a whirlwind. Having a 3.8 GPA helped land a mandated dietetic internship at Idaho State University and acceptance to UNR’s graduate program where I earned a master’s in nutritional sciences and registered dietitian credentials shortly thereafter.
My first professional job was working in a skilled nursing facility (SNF). Ironically, I swore off this setting after a horrible experience during my internship with an Eden Alternative Project gone wrong. What I discovered is that my position offered autonomy and flexibility, which was important as a working single mom, as well as free after school care. My daughter helped with arts and crafts, and my son played card games and checkers with residents.
Working in long-term care taught me compassion; how to communicate; interpersonal, observation, and time management skills; and patience. More so, it was meaningful to learn from the residents – their stories and life lessons.
Disenchanted with the annual survey process, I left the skilled nursing industry to work in a specialty home infusion pharmacy and home care and DMEPOS (durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics, and supplies). I recall being hired into a position not for my qualifications but secondary to the vice president’s insistent that “single moms work harder since they need the money and are more motivated to achieve bonuses and stretch goals.”
In 2014, I reconnected with a former coworker from 2006 (my current leader), who brought me to Avamere where I remain in a multifaceted position overseeing the Avamere Family of Companies’ nutrition and culinary programs.
When looking back on my career journey, it is crazy to think that I set a goal without having a plan to achieve it. Dedication to my goal helped me stay the course and continually move forward on the path I chose. A bonus was the lessons learned while traveling down this path that provided me with tools I needed to grow as a person and become successful in my professional life.
When I am not working, I often escape into the back county paths to decompress, far away from electronics and the hustle and bustle.