When Beth Donner hears people say they’ve lived in Cary a long time, she can’t help but give a small knowing smile when she asks, “How long?” Sometimes the answer is 20, 30, even 50 years. Beth has them all beat.
Her family roots in Western Wake County run back more than 200 years to just after the Civil War. Her mother’s side has a family cemetery preserved in what is now part of Umstead State Park. So it’s no surprise she takes special pride in calling Cary home.
“To have spent my whole life in Cary, North Carolina … I mean really,” she laughed. “How much better can it get than that?”
That pride, coupled with her philosophy on life, “If you’re not giving back, what are you doing with your life?” benefits an immeasurable number of people in Western Wake County.
Donner has always found a way to assist others whether it was professionally in her former job as a neo-natal intensive care and hospice nurse, her current job as a financial investment adviser, as a volunteer with Alzheimer’s North Carolina or as an ambassador and current board member with the Cary Chamber of Commerce.
Now, the business-savvy mother of two with a nurse’s heart for helping has answered the call to save lives at Hopeline. The 24-hour hotline for crisis intervention and suicide prevention has been operating from undisclosed locations in Cary for 40 years offering a confidential, non-judgmental listening ear to those most in need. Hopeline’s volunteer counselors also put callers in touch with much needed community services.
Unfortunately, Donner has had personal experience with suicide in her life among family, clients and friends, so when she was asked to join the board of directors a little more than a year ago, it spoke to her heart. The fact that suicide is the No. 2 cause of death among 16- to 25-year-olds was especially troubling.
“It’s gut-wrenching to think that our young people are apparently feeling that lonely, that sad, that hopeless and lost that (suicide) seems to be the best plan for their whole and entire life,” Donner mourned.
But the nonprofit is now in a crisis of its own. This year, Hopeline’s operating budget is less than half of what it was in 2001. Its paid staff has dwindled from more than a dozen to one part-time and one full-time employee. The volunteer ranks have also thinned. Reduced rent and support from the Triangle United Way will keep the doors open for the next six months, but after that, who knows?
Once on the board, Beth quickly distinguished herself by challenging other board members with thought-provoking questions about how the organization was being run. Board member Scott Bowers wasted no time putting Beth’s name forth to become president of the struggling nonprofit.
“When you see the energy and enthusiasm she has, it’s contagious and she challenges you to rise to her level,” said Bowers. “When that spreads to a board of nine or 10 people, I think it will have a positive effect to reach more people.”
One thing Donner has is a deep contact list, and she’s not afraid to use it to keep Hopeline afloat.
“Because of my longevity in the area, I know lots and lots of people here. I mean lots,” she exclaimed.
Her goals for the organization are to grow the budget through corporate sponsors, increase the arsenal of volunteers, develop closer ties with local youth in schools and increase public awareness. Ambitious to be sure, but Donner is adamant these goals can and must be met.
“A society that is hurting that bad with so many people that feel they don’t have anywhere else to turn to, that their life is so horrible that it is literally not worth living anymore … that speaks to my heart and makes me want to take action and change that,” she said.
After all, this community is her home, and she believes part of what makes Cary so wonderful is that the people of Cary care.
For more information, visit www.hopeline-nc.org or for help call the Crisis Line at (919) 231-4525 or toll-free at (877) 235-4525.