Miracle Worker

Ryan Duerk, '13

When Ryan Duerk ‘13 first came to Miracle Hill Ministries, he had hit rock bottom.

His life was one of “addiction and brokenness,” and he had nowhere else to turn. Now, as CEO of Miracle Hill, Duerk is dedicated to serving those who are desperate for help, just as he was years ago.

“I’m passionate about helping other people overcome the obstacles in their life,” he says. “I’m passionate about it because it changed my life. And I’m passionate about it because most people who are in the position that I was in can’t see a path forward.”

As head of a Greenville-based organization that each year serves an average of more than 335,000 meals and provides more than 200,000 beds to those experiencing homelessness, Duerk has worked in almost every area of the operation. He started as a warehouse manager, then moved into a case manager role with one of Miracle Hill’s addiction recovery programs, and eventually became director of that program.

From there he became vice president of adult ministries, managing Miracle Hill’s four adult shelters, before taking on the leadership of the entire organization three and half years ago. “I tell people all the time, I have the best job in the world, I get paid to watch God at work in people’s lives,” Duerk says.

He recalls how the help he himself received transformed him. “I found this amazing family of counselors and case managers who just came alongside me and helped me in my brokenness.” Though he worked other jobs after his recovery, he knew he wanted to make a career out of helping others who were experiencing what he had.

When he came back to work for Miracle Hill – “I kind of begged my way in the door,” he says – he realized he’d have to get a college degree if he wanted to become a licensed counselor, his goal at the time. He attended Greenville Technical College, then transferred to USC Upstate to major in experimental psychology.

Duerk loved his time at Upstate. As an adult learner, he forged strong relationships with his professors and was inspired by his studies. But he also recognized he’d need an advanced degree in the field to have the kind of career he had envisioned, and the extra years of study weren’t practical with a wife and children now part of his life.

His advisor suggested his administrative and leadership skills might be better served by an MBA, which Duerk earned at Anderson University. Both degrees have served him well in his current job, he says.

“The psychology degree helps me know how to lead our staff to offering the best care we can to the people that come in the front doors of our facilities,” Duerk says. “And you can’t operate an organization this big without some kind of business acumen, so I use that degree every day as well.”

As big and intractable a problem as homelessness might seem, Duerk believes everyone in the community can do something to help. Indeed, he says, solutions are possible only if everyone – cities, nonprofits, the public – work together.

Something as simple as using the Miracle Hill app to direct a person in need to community resources can make a difference, Duerk says. Civic leaders also need to hear from residents advocating for policies that create more affordable housing, along with services in the area where it’s located, such as transportation, food and health care.

Growth in the Upstate is making homelessness more visible, Duerk says, as encampments formerly hidden from view are cleared out for development and the residents there forced into more public areas. That might make some people feel frustrated, even angry, but ignoring the issue isn’t an option, Duerk says.

People “should remember that every person they see is somebody’s son or daughter, brother, sister, mother, father. These are human beings that have families and hopes and dreams, just like you do.”