By Juli Oberlander
Doris Moore was just two years old when she and her family moved to Omaha to seek better opportunities during the Great Migration.
While she has always called Omaha home, she says it has come with its challenges. When Moore was young, her family lived in North Omaha. However, they were forced to leave after the interstate began to cut through that part of town.
Coming from a more diverse area, Moore and her family moved to a predominantly white section of the city. Moore says they were one of the few black families there, which brought difficulties as she entered her middle school years at McMillan.
“I went to a middle school that was predominantly white, coming from an elementary school that was predominantly black,” Moore says. “I just remember being chased by little white children in the community as I was walking to school. There was some trauma associated with that. As soon as I could leave McMillan, I decided to go to high school at Omaha North. It was about 60-40 along the racial lines, so it was a little bit better mix than what I had at McMillan.”
Seeking her purpose
After graduating from Omaha North, Moore received a full-ride scholarship to attend the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), which she says was a huge blessing.
“It was a Goodrich scholarship because I was a first-generation student,” Moore says. “If I hadn’t had that, I probably would not have gone to college, so I appreciated the program.”
At UNO, Moore majored in psychology, but she says she wasn’t completely sure what she wanted to do with the degree. Her first post-college job was with Tele-Trip, a foreign currency and travel protection company connected to Mutual of Omaha. After that, Moore spent five years in employee relations for Omaha Public Power District.
During that time, Moore says she was hopeful for a promotion. When it never came, she took a job with IBM, but that ultimately didn’t pan out, either.
“The belief was, for most black people, if you get your foot in the door, then you’d be allowed to move up in a company,” Moore says. “Well, that did not happen. It was challenging dealing with, basically racism, and Affirmative Action, which really wasn’t Affirmative Action in my opinion. I tell people that I prayed to get into IBM, and then when I got to IBM, I prayed to get out because I didn’t like it. I just didn’t feel that I was using all of the skills and the knowledge that I had.”
When Moore was downsized after nine years at IBM, she says she knew she needed a change. During that time, she started to listen to Dr. Pat Hudson, a psychotherapist who hosted a daily radio show called “Solutions” on KFAB.
After hearing Hudson counsel people over the radio, Moore says she realized her calling.
“I just remembered that people were always telling me as I was growing up that I was a wise old woman,” she says.
Following the downsizing, Moore began researching college programs that focused on mental health counseling. She enrolled in UNO’s Community Counseling program and worked in the Office of Multicultural Affairs as a graduate assistant. In 1996, she received her master’s degree in Community Counseling.
To better understand the industry, Moore says she worked at several organizations, including a couple large counseling agencies in Omaha. She also held a counseling position with Nebraska Methodist College, where she gained more knowledge about holistic therapy.
Moore says holistic counseling addresses various forms of well-being, including spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional components. As a college therapist, her mission was to help people understand how multiple areas impact wellness, not just the mental and emotional sides.
“It’s important to spend some time and focus on those so that we can get better and stay better longer,” Moore says. “That was really my goal: making sure that I didn’t just wait until people were in crisis to start working with them. I think we do a disservice to people just waiting for them to be in crisis because we know that once the crisis is reduced or lessened, then they go back to their normal behavior, and their normal behavior is what got them into crisis. My whole approach has really been to focus on prevention, education, outreach, as well as intervention.”
Fulfilling a need
As Moore worked in the counseling field, she says she soon realized Omaha lacked an organization that focused specifically on the black population. To fill the void, she founded the Center for Holistic Development (CHD), a nonprofit organization that provides behavioral health programs, activities, and resources to the community.
Since 2001, CHD has served Omahans of all ages and backgrounds. Moore says the majority of CHD’s clientele are Medicaid recipients, many of whom cannot afford therapy. Because CHD is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, people don’t have to worry about covering the cost of deductibles or copayments to receive counseling services.
In the past, Moore says many black people have avoided therapy due to the stigma around it, even though they often experience significant historical and intergenerational trauma.
However, when people discover therapists who look like them, she says they are more likely to seek the help they need.
“Many times, people had gone to people of different races and ethnicities, and didn’t feel that they were treated fairly,” Moore says. “Consequently, they would stop going to therapy. I just didn’t want that to happen to people that I was working with, so that was really the impetus for starting the Center for Holistic Development.”
To reduce the mental health stigma, CHD provides educational and wellness opportunities for children, parents, couples, and seniors. The center also hosts Wellness Wednesdays with activities such as yoga, massages, and bingo. In addition, CHD offers behavioral health assessments and meditations related to issues such as COVID-19 and social injustices.
During COVID-19, Moore says CHD had a waitlist for the first time, and the center has experienced a steady flow of patients since then. With the growing number of clients, Moore is searching for more therapists who can serve their needs.
To address this issue, CHD is working with universities to provide internships and practicums to interested students, along with supporting local outreach efforts to introduce young people to the counseling profession. Moore says her priority is to find more therapists, particularly black counselors.
“The numbers that need it [counseling] far outweigh the personnel that’s available,” she says. “COVID just exacerbated the whole situation with people and their mental and emotional health. I think people are still struggling a lot right now.”
Making a difference
Over the years, Moore says impacting people’s lives through counseling has brought her joy.
She says one of her favorite success stories involves a mother who was concerned about her teenage son. Through the counseling process, her team presented the boy with strategies that helped strengthen his relationships, academics, and outlook on life. His mother indicated that she was forever grateful to CHD for saving her son.
“I love the work that we do,” Moore says. “We can see how it benefits our families. That’s just the icing on the cake.”
Moore says CHD works closely with children and families to help them thrive, using methods such as parenting time and family support. For children, therapists teach strategies that build social and emotional competence. Additionally, the nonprofit provides parents and caregivers with strategies to better nurture their children, a cause close to Moore’s heart.
“The sooner we start to work with our families and our children, the more likely we’re going to have a healthier society,” she says. “For this year, it’s one of our focuses because our children are suffering a lot. Until we help the children, we’re not going to be able to continue to grow and improve as a nation. To do that, we must connect with the parents because children are a product of their environment. We have to make sure that we are creating healthier environments so that we can have healthier children.”
A legacy of service
Reflecting on her years as CEO, Moore says she is pleased with the strides CHD has made for people of color. While the center still faces its challenges, particularly in regard to funding, Moore says she is grateful for the staff and board she has assembled.
“I’ve learned a lot,” she says. “Hopefully, they’ve learned something from me, and really have the kind of passion that I have for the community. It just boils down to helping people become the best people that they can be. That’s the bottom line.”
Outside of her career, Moore is proud of her two successful adult daughters, Shayla and Alisa, as well as her 37-year marriage to husband Henry. Ultimately, she looks forward to retiring and leaving the legacy of an organization that continues to meet the needs of the community.
“Starting the Center for Holistic Development, I had no business knowledge or anything, and decided this was something that I wanted to do to help the community,” Moore says. “I believe that it’s a blessing that I’m able to do this and do it in such a way that I feel our community has been impacted for the good.”