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Born to give back

One NCAA staff member devotes much of her time and energy to others

Diane Dennis

The front door was left open. Dishes towered above the sink. Any spare seats were filled by the neighbors in Liberty City (Miami), hugging what little space lingered between Diane Dennis and her six siblings.

While there were more than a half-dozen mouths to feed in Dennis’s own home, second helpings of dinner were often prepared for whoever might stop by, aching to quiet a howling stomach.

 “My mother always cooked extra food, especially during the holidays,” Dennis, NCAA associate director of enforcement, said. “If you wanted a plate, go to Lucille’s house.”

The example Dennis’s mother set has not left her. Today, her colleagues know the investigator as one of the more giving people they’ve ever encountered and Dennis devotes much of her free time and energy to giving back through her church.

Wherever I go, I develop relationships with people and try to bless them throughout the year and definitely during Christmas time,” she said.

Dennis, one of the longest-tenured investigators on the enforcement staff, has carried her values into her work. She looks to do whatever she can to help student-athletes every time she visits a campus.

“Investigation is tough because we’re like an IRS agent – no one wants to see us,” she said. “But I always try to treat people with courtesy and respect.”

A few years ago, Paula Buckhaulter, NCAA assistant director of championships and alliances, became a mentor to a neighbor’s son who was struggling in high school. She shared the news with Dennis. Suddenly, the college hopeful had another person pushing him to achieve his goals. Dennis sent regular notes encouraging him to keep working hard and helped Buckhaulter provide him a vacation as a present for graduating high school.

“Her heart is gigantic,” Buckhaulter said. “He is scheduled to graduate from college this spring and Diane is an instrumental part of his success story.”

In October, Dennis and a dozen other members of Solid Wood Bible Church went on a mission trip to a Navajo Reservation in Arizona. When a day’s work was complete, they would return to cots in an open, drafty room. Nevertheless, she said that “those were the best eight days of my life.”

Now, she spends a few days every month venturing into strangers’ homes as part of a program with her church. She offers guidance and answers questions about her own religion and faith, hoping to be a beacon for them, like the light in her mother’s kitchen was for so many others.

“I came from the inner city and a lot of people invested time in me and helped me,” she said. “And you always want to pay it forward.” 

 

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