The Story of Derede
When a child talks about a challenging home life, most people are inclined to say, "I'm sorry that happened to you." But not Derede Darden (formerly Heim). She's going to say, "That's your story. How are you going to write the ending?"
It might sound like tough love, but it's Derede (pronounced DARE-uh-dee) speaking with experience and hope for their future.
Derede is the youngest of five children, and her family struggled financially. "By the time I came along, my parents were just kind of done raising kids," she said.
By the age of seven, her parents came in and out of her life. She left home at an early age and hopped from place to place, staying with family and friends over the years.
Life was hard without parental support. In high school, she worked to support herself and afford an apartment, leaving her exhausted for class. Derede remembers during those days that if people saw you without your parents, "they thought it was because you were a bad kid."
People told her, "You won't amount to anything."
In the fall of 1986, Derede walked into LCCC and said, "I don't have any money, but I want to go to college." She was ready to prove the naysayers wrong.
Derede took a job with LCCC's Veterans Affairs, working for Michelle Massey. That job led to money, classes, and so much more.
"I didn't have a lot of confidence, and Michelle was the first person that I can remember reassuring me that I could do this thing called college," Derede shared. Michelle counseled Derede when she was struggling and helped her find ways to earn money on campus, such as proctoring tests.
"Derede is probably the most determined person I've met," said Michelle, who now works in LCCC's Office of Financial Aid & Scholarships. "Like many of our students, she had to overcome tremendous obstacles in order to go to college."
Derede remembers her history instructor noticing she wasn't doing well in class and working with her on how to study. Because she struggled early in life, she was learning some subjects and skills for the first time in college. She finally had teachers who connected with her and inspired her.
"LCCC gave me the confidence that I didn't get during the first 17 years of my life," she said. "I needed to know that I was not disposable to the world."
In 1991, she completed her bachelor's degree in elementary education at the University of Wyoming, followed by a stint teaching at Noah Webster Christian School. Over the years and through different jobs, she kept running into students who struggled with learning. No one could tell her what she could do to help them. That inspired her to earn her master's degree in special education at UW.
Derede worked as a special education consultant for Laramie County School District No. 1 for about six years, but she missed working with the kids. She moved to Carey Junior High in Cheyenne where she became the school's principal. Most recently, she served as the principal at Hobbs Elementary, and this fall she takes on a new role as the student support district administrator in Cheyenne to help schools with areas such as safety, positive behavior, and intervention support.
Derede's made it her mission to leave a positive imprint on every stakeholder she encounters. She feels drawn to support those students and families in challenging situations because she's been there.
"It's the reason I am who I am," she said. She wants to share with them what they don't always hear, "You will be okay. It's not easy. You can do this. I believe in you."
Not only did LCCC help Derede get her start, but it did the same for her family. Her husband and two daughters have attended and graduated from LCCC.
"I am so thankful for LCCC, and I share that daily," Derede said.