When GraceWorks volunteer Donna Choate was a very little girl, her father gave her bicycle and told her to pedal as fast as she could.
But when she slowed her pedaling, she and the bike fell over. Incensed, she asked him why he did that to her.
“He said, ‘Don-Don, this is a lesson in life if you want to get anywhere,” Donna said.
It’s a lesson she’s never forgotten. She’s been pedaling fast ever since.
Donna’s can-do, get-it-done spirit lit up the first time she walked through the GraceWorks back door.
“I saw so much that needed help. We had just moved here, and I was donating some stuff left over. But I realized they didn’t need my stuff as much as they needed me,” Donna said.
Then-store manager Shirley Cooper invited her to volunteer when she discovered Donna was a retired designer.
“It’s been all uphill from there,” Donna said. “I say uphill because it’s been a good thing. I don’t want to say downhill.”
“Uphill” is not a bad word to describe Donna’s GraceWorks experience, considering the time and effort she has put in over the past eight years.
She first saw artificial flowers being thrown away, and she used them to make floral arrangements to sell in the GraceWorks Thrift Store.
Later, convinced more money could be made from jewelry that was donated, she took items to local antique shops, Walton’s Jewelry and Crown Jewelry, for appraisals and advice. In addition to achieving more accurate prices for GraceWorks shoppers, sometimes the stores would buy items for more than could be sold at GraceWorks. The first year she was on the job, GraceWorks made $14,000 in jewelry sales, and last year, the thrift store made $29,000.
“I worked to build relationships with the community that help me do what I do, and they bought into it with me,” she said. “We couldn’t do it without that community support.”
A few years ago, Donna saw a better opportunity in a furniture donation to the thrift store. She insisted the furniture stay in the family’s home and enlisted the help of Berenice Denton, an estate sale specialist. The sale brought in $10,000 in two days.
“When I can see the fruits of my labor, that’s what inspires me to go and do more,” she said.
And there’s much more. She brings in special jewelry and arranges it for GraceWorks’ silent auctions. She has been involved in planning and obtaining multiple sponsorships for events, and she served a term on the GraceWorks Board of Directors.
Her desire to help others was inspired by her parents, she said.
“My father and mother were always very caring, very giving people. My dad helped establish Big Brothers on Houston. … My dad’s parents died when he was young, and he grew up in an orphanage, so I heard from him all his life about people who need help. He instilled that in me,” she said.
GraceWorks gave her a place to help families in need, she said.
“I believe in this ministry and what it does for our community. Can you imagine what Franklin would be like if GraceWorks wasn’t here?”
— Kathi McClure