Donna Warnken-Brill

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved as a Volunteer?

I would say that I am an empty nester, looking for where I can get involved. I am a pediatric nurse. I’ve always had an interest in children and teens so when I saw a blurb in the newspaper in Foster a Dream I became very interested.

What drew you to the Development Committee?

I have purposefully been trying to test all of the waters and see what it does and where I best fit in. I have an affinity for organization; so helping with the committee events comes really naturally to me. Right now I’ve been helping to get fundraising for the upcoming breakfast. My organizational skills really come in handy when it comes to organizing events.

I went up with Kim Castaneda to Sacramento to learn about what Volunteers of America has been doing to help Veterans. We saw all of the great things going on at the veterans center. We went on a tour of the Transitional Housing Program for Former Foster Youth.

After seeing all of that, I’m really hoping we will be able to bring those things here! In the Transitional Housing Program for Former Foster Youth they converted military housing into housing for transitional youth. When we were there, we got a tour from the director of the program. They really have a nice arrangement going on there. They live in small apartments, but they receive lots of support. I got to meet some of the young men who were living there and I could tell that it had been really helpful for them because they were able to get work experience, a safe place to live and the opportunity to get themselves together to plan for next step. 

What are some of the memorable experiences you’ve had while working in the Shell Dream Store?

I have a really big heart for children and teens, so I was especially attracted to helping out in the foster a dream offices. In the store I have been a personal shopper. I’ve helped out once with a younger boy who really loved going through the store. It seemed like he thought it was so fun. Another time I was able to helped a teen whose living situation had abruptly changed. This child had to leave school and all of the things that they knew. The teen chose pillows and basic items like that. It really felt like coming into the store helped us to alleviate her stress. I just think, at least these kids have somewhere to go before they head to a new place. They come to the Foster a Dream Store and find support on the connection between group homes.

In relation to your time with VOA, is there a favorite story or memory you would like to share?

I have attended all three Women’s Empowerment Days. While I was there, I tried to get a little connected to some of the teen girls. One of the days in particular, I helped the girls to do vision boards that would help them to look towards their futures. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to do activities like this when you’ve always been taught to look towards your future. But through these activities, they are able to gain momentum... to look forward to something. To them, Volunteers of America putting on these events, and volunteers coming and showing interest in them as individuals shows them that there is someone who cares for them.

There have been three of the empowerment days so far, at the last one we had, one of the girls at the even told me that she hoped they would continue doing activities like the storyboards. It’s so inspiring to see all of the challenges the foster youth have overcome. It was inspiring to see them saying “I can take control of this. I can have my own future” even though they have had a very hard childhood. Watching these girls who grew up struggling with so much begin to dream of their future was incredible.

If you could describe Volunteers of America in one word or phrase, what word would it be?

The phrase that keeps running through my head is compassion for those most in need…for those who are the most vulnerable in our society.