Home health was the vocation for Denise Rush. Her upbringing shaped her to care for the elderly in ways that afford them dignity, but finding work with bene ts and regular hours had been a long-standing struggle. Denise moved her family into the shelter following an accident on black ice that caused her to lose her job and home.
Each week in the Genesis Home living room, Denise and her advocate Quinn Holmquist, a Duke student from Charlotte, NC, met to complete job applications. Their perseverance paid o when Denise was offered two positions, but they came with challenges: “People don’t know that you have to go through a lot to be a [Certified Nursing Assistant].” She worked 50-75 hour weeks, and spent time and gas driving to clients’ homes, which was uncompensated by her employer.
Denise’s kids worried, “Mom, we haven’t seen you for a week.” Even Quinn grew anxious over her lack of sleep. “So I started saying ‘no’ to the hours. My employer’s attitude was, ‘How dare you not want to work all these hours?’ They sent me an email saying, ‘Your services are no longer needed.’” Fortunately, Denise and Quinn had been applying to better-paying jobs. Shortly after her dismissal, Denise called Quinn, exclaiming,“Duke called me!” She had received an offer for a salaried CNA position at Duke Hospital, with benefits and consistent hours that made it a keeper.
Denise’s experiences have given her a powerful voice in Raise Up for 15, a national movement campaigning for a $15 minimum wage. She has given speeches in Durham, Chicago, and Atlanta, and was featured in the New York Times. “My mentality is that we come together and pull each other up. That’s how I was raised growing up in the Caribbean – there is unity.” At Raise Up for 15 events, she has met college professors who live out of their cars, and civil rights activists who marched alongside Dr. King. “Back then, their working conditions were horrible, and because they fought, conditions improved.”