Continuing with our monthly deathcare professional conversations, let us introduce you to Jennifer Duran. A 25+ year veteran in the industry, Jennifer started as a funeral director in south Florida at a time when very few females were considered for such a title. Over time, her experience as a director combined with her activeness in the community led to a Manager role at Moore Funeral Home at Forest Lawn in Asheville, NC, where she has spent the last eight years.
With Asheville made up of a diverse community, Jennifer has excelled at hiring a staff that is representative of her community, hiring those young and old, male and female, those with rich experience in the industry and those looking to make a start. Let’s find out more about Jennifer.
Jennifer Duran’s Background
1. How did you become interested in the funeral profession?
One of my earliest memories is of my great grandfather’s funeral and when I was in 3rd grade when my step-brother died. Both were something that I remember my family going through and I think from the experience of those deaths when I was young, that made it something I always wanted to do.
2. How long have you been a Director/Owner/other position?
25 years, a quarter of a century, my friend.
I’ve been a Manager at Moore Funeral Home for eight years. Previously, I had been a funeral director in south Florida doing community outreach and being the community liaison. With that being one of my strongest assets, they wanted me to be involved and active in the community here and to make our presence known. And that’s what I’ve done.
Changing The Industry At Moore Funeral Home
1. When we first met, you mentioned that you have a very eclectic staff. Tell me a bit about your staff and home.
I am probably the oldest person on my staff. The rest of them have tattoos, gauges, we have someone who is a burlesque dancer, someone who is a dog trainer. We have people from all different faiths and no faiths. You are not going to find all of us wearing our black suits. We very much belong in the community that we are in. We’re very eclectic, of different backgrounds, different ages and a lot of women. I have a lot of women as support staff which you don’t see in our area, unfortunately.
Asheville is an interesting community. The back of the building faces a poorer area. My backdoor is old country Candler made up of farmers, manufacturing, and very family oriented and with folks of a religious background. My front door is more anything goes. Just last week there was a topless rally here. The funeral home did not participate. 🙂
We have always worked with the Arc, an organization that helps people with disabilities be employed. We have a woman who comes in a few days a week and helps around the office. Any funeral home or business that can offer an opportunity for someone to have independence like that, should. We hire them on, they are an employee, they get a name tag, they’re invited to our events, they are a part of our team. They are our funeral home. They are our staff. It’s been a fantastic opportunity for us and them.
Our funeral home sponsors a race car Anthony Miller Racing — every race that he goes to, he is thanking his supporters on social media and we’re one of them. We really try to think outside the box to find ways to be in the community. We cook and serve at a community meal once a month and we volunteer with Council on Aging. We’re very involved in the community and not to just put our names on things — we’re there to do the work.
Jennifer Duran Insights
1. What do you enjoy most about working at Forest Lawn and in the funeral profession?
At Moore, I absolutely love that I have the funeral home, the cemetery, the crematory, the pet cemetery, the pet crematory, and the green burial section. The only thing I am missing is alkaline hydrolysis. Because of these services, I get to meet people who are all facets. The pet families and the families in our community are wonderful because a lot of them think outside the box and want something that you can be creative with. And there is something comforting about doing the traditional that you were brought up in to complement that. I like a challenge and I like this area because I have all of that.
Why I love the funeral industry, in general, is because I get to serve families, showing them options and ideas they might not otherwise know about, and offering them things like Everdays where they don’t want a full obituary in the newspaper because no one is local. With Everdays, here is an option, that, wow, they can be in charge of it and it’s empowering to them at a time they feel powerless. I’m going to give you this option and you’re going to be able to control at a time when everything is spiraling out of control.
2. Service is often highlighted as the key differentiator when comparing funeral homes; what do you do differently to stand out among other directors/owners and homes?
What most people have said is that we’re very real and that we don’t feel like we’re putting up a lot of pretenses. We are who we are. You get who we are when you walk in. If you meet me at the grocery store, I am the same person if you come in. This is us. We’re just like you.
We’re going to sit in our living room and talk about this. It’s comfortable walking in here because we’re not stuffy and we’re not uptight.
We have a foster cat at our home that we foster for the Humane Society. So we’re laid back and different. We’re on our 15th cat. We’ve gotten 15 adopted.
I don’t ever meet strangers. If you are going to succeed in this business, you can’t be the person in the black suit clamped up in the corner, not making eye contact, and waiting for everyone to die.
3. How has the profession changed since you started?
Being from south Florida and going to school there, cremation was always there so cremation hasn’t been an obstacle or something we’ve struggled with.
Families think they don’t need us because of the Internet and DIY funerals and we, as an industry, have almost made ourselves obsolete by not successfully showing the value we provide. Our industry is portrayed as sticks in the mud that have no sense of humor and don’t want to change. With all of these people on YouTube talking about death, celebrations of life, and home funerals, now it’s time for us to embrace it. It’s not our funerals, it’s theirs.
With cremation, the industry has said “go ahead and do what you want to do” and sends them on their way rather than talking more about the options that exist for them. But, if we can sit down with the family and give them ideas and become celebrants and help them with it, they can have a better service, a more meaningful service.
I’ve also seen a lot more donation to science, especially in the past year in our area. We have several places in our area where you can donate your body to science due to the amount of research going on at area universities. I still share that they can have a memorial service with pictures – you don’t just disappear. I’m unsure if this change is because boomers are starting to make their arrangements and that falls in line with their way of thinking, to be repurposed if you will be donated to science and one final act for doing good. They certainly don’t realize there can be a service.
4. What is the biggest challenge you see facing the funeral profession today?
I think you’re going to have a lot of people retiring soon and are there enough directors coming into this industry that are going to last? You’re always going to have people who are intrigued by the death care industry and think it’s cool and want to try it, but how many are going to stick with it? Trying to find good people that are willing to serve the families how the families need to be served is a concern and challenge.
5. How do you use technology in your home today?
We’ve always put the obituaries on our website and on our Facebook page. Everdays has helped us reach more family members because some of these people might not have a computer at home to see an online obituary, but they have a cell phone. Technology is vitally important. You have to keep up with what’s going on around you with technology, otherwise, you get passed up and it’s hard to play catch up.
And your staff has to be trained in it, as well. Once you’re so far behind, it’s hard to catch up and it can feel impossible — I think that’s why a lot of directors don’t want to try something new and talk themselves out of it. If you try, you’d see how easy it is and that it only takes five minutes. You can do it, I know you can.
6. How do you see technology changing the profession in the future?
I think you will see video messages where people can upload a video for a family of them speaking to the family. And can see Facebook Live being used to record the service. There is also going to be so many exciting things that are going to help the family.
It’s not going to regress, it’s going to keep going further, and you have to stick with it. And you need to try new things and if it works, great, keep it and embrace it. And if it doesn’t work, at least you can say that you tried it. But find something that works and that you’re willing to work at.
7. What made you choose Everdays for your client families?
Oh my goodness. It’s just a wonderful way for families to let their family and friends know that something happened because not everyone reads the obituary, not even online. When something happens, your mind is on “Oh, I have to contact 30 people within the next day or two,” and that means phone calls. It’s exhausting, especially when you have other things to do.
Everdays saves the family from answering the same questions over and over and if they forgot to call someone, at least they can spread it out to all of their contacts and not worry about missing a person. There’s no more,
“Did you contact that person?”,
“No, I thought you did.”
Now that person is upset because no one told them that the person died and there’s a funeral — this alleviates all of that. Especially, because we don’t have the phone books as we did in the past with everyone’s name and address.
Announcing on Everdays
I have no idea how to contact my mother’s friends, except on Facebook, but I know with Everdays, I have access to her cell phone and I could put that information in there and send it out and that just makes it so much easier.
You’ll sit with families and they’re getting phone call after phone call asking about arrangements. With Everdays, you don’t have to return all of those voicemails. You send one thing, one thing and it’s done. It’s empowering. They can cross that off their list, everyone knows, and they can move onto the next thing. It is so valuable to be able to mark one thing off the list and be able to control something at that time.
Saves Time for the Family and the Home
And it saves people from calling the funeral home. No more calls asking about arrangements so it frees up my staff time by not having to answer call after call about the service. This way, we can say, let me take your name and number and give it to the family and then they can put their information on the phone and send it out. It’s a time saver for us, as well, and not repeating the same thing over and over.
When it comes to Everdays, it’s easy to be a cheerleader because I believe in it so much. This is something so fantastic for our families that ease a burden for them.
8. You have a lot to do each day, what has helped you successfully incorporate Everdays into your process?
Any family that wants something, a type of service or death announcement, it’s on my checklist for every folder and that includes Everdays. It’s not even an option, this is something we do for you. They don’t get to say yes or no. It’s going to go to them and if they want to use it, great. But this is something you’re going to get in the next hour or two when you leave here and they love it.
I’m already asking them to make so many decisions and I just present it as this is something that is going to help you and that we do for you and all you need to do is forward it and it’s done. They love that. It’s not giving them options at a time they’re already overwhelmed. They don’t have to make a decision, I’ve made it and it’s going to help them. It’s automatic. The newspaper, tribute, Everdays. Boom, boom, boom. You just do it. This is a benefit to them and once they receive it, they recognize how beneficial it is to them.
9. If you could tell your day oneself one thing looking back, after all these years, what would it be?
To always remember why you’re doing this because sometimes you can get really disheartened and sort of numb to it. Take time to recharge and remember why you’re doing this. Burnout is real. I am the manager, director, car washer, bookkeeper, admin. I do everything. It’s really hard.
10. So how do you relax and stay refreshed?
I quilt, I swim, I shop. I volunteer. I’m on my church council as president, I volunteer and am on call with the Trauma Intervention Program to sit with families who need extra help — they don’t know I’m a funeral director, it’s just about helping my community. I recharge by helping people more.