Emily Donovan: “Do One Small Thing”
Brunswick County is a place of wonderful diversity and many voices. But one thing is clear: this County continues to thrive and grow because citizens stand up and take part in their community. When people get involved in their neighborhoods creating the change they want to see and advocating for the town they love, it makes a difference. Emily Donovan is an inspirational example of this.
Although her job as Youth Director at Little Chapel on the Boardwalk, where she has served for four years, means she is well-tied to the Wrightsville Beach community, Brunswick County is where Donovan has thrown herself vigorously into trying to affect the change she wants to see.
With a background in marketing and communications for a large company in Charlotte, where she won accolades for her work, she knows how to connect people. But the career wasn’t for her.
“There was no fulfillment, personally. You are working for a corporation, just trying to make a bottom line, but are you really changing the world? So it didn’t feel fulfilling. I had that moment of decision, and thought, ‘maybe I should go back to school and go into education.’ Because I look at teaching as a ministry and a calling in its own right…teachers are more than just teaching. They are nurturing and rearing.”
She and her husband moved to Leland nearly nine years ago and since then she has found her way to change the world. Today, she is the President of the Parent Advisory Council for Belville Elementary School, Vice-President of the countywide Parent Advisory Council, and a voice in many civic organizations.
The Parent Advisory Council (or “PAC”) is a state-mandated council created to fulfill Title I requirements. As she sees it, Donovan works to ensure that the school board members are accountable and that school needs are being met. She is an advocate for parents.
Brunswick County is unique. The County has drawn their school district lines so nearly every elementary school is considered a Title I school, which provides access to resources. Having a Parent Advisory Council helps coordinate the entire County and facilitate a way for the entire school system to work together. Much like other leaders across the County, Donovan sees the biggest challenges here as keeping pace with the quick growth and how to connect residents and provide services given the large size of Brunswick County.
“It is a great way to meet other parents in other areas in the County and listen to their needs,” Donovan says. “[Around the country], just because you are a Title I school and have a PAC doesn’t mean you have an active one. But I’ve worked really hard to try to educate everybody on what has been happening in the education system and help them digest it in a manner easy to understand. There is a lot that happens at the state and county level that is confusing.”
“We are talking about government regulations; school safety; can we get smartboards in the classroom?; we talk about school bus schedules. How can the school systems communicate effectively to the community? Parent Advisory Council works to bridge gaps and make parent involvement easy and possibly enjoyable!”
It is clear when talking to Donovan that schools and teacher support are passions of hers. And, as a mom to twin second-graders, it isn’t just because of how it affects her own children. It is because she sees strong public schooling as an integral role in supporting families and children and creating a connected community that cares for each other.
“For some kids, school is the only safe place they know. I see a tremendous amount of value in public school and my ability to be a part of it. Because public school takes ‘care of the least of these’.”
Donovan makes time for community engagement and involvement in a way that is motivating. Between her job at the church, her work with the schools, and time to be a devoted mother and wife, Donovan also works with various groups to increase political awareness and assist communications (both within the groups, with the community-at-large, and with various government representatives).
“There is this decision that drives me, by my faith, to be so active in the County and that’s the ability to not see children as other people’s children but all as a collective.”
Donovan considers herself operating outside of any arbitrary party definitions on issues. Her compass always guides her in believing that we should govern with compassion and love. Her personal political beliefs are driven by her eye towards the greater good, which is pulled directly from her faith.
“I do it because we should,” Donovan continues. “How you make society great is by being a part of it. We don’t thrive [as a society] if we are focused on ourselves. We need to build community. We forgot at some point how to be in community with each other. And this is how God intended it. We are wired to be social, to feel like we belong to something.”
Asked how she keeps going, Donovan says, “I believe that all we can do is one small thing. Then, we do the next right thing.”