Donna Shannon first discovered Calaveras County as an adult when she brought her children and her mother to visit her aunt and uncle who lived in Mountain Ranch. After getting a taste of Calaveras, she vowed to herself she would live in this beautiful county when she retired.
She spent years working toward that goal, buying a home and working on it during her weekends and holidays. Finally, more than 20 years ago her dream came true and she became a resident.
Retirement, however, was a different thing altogether.
“I remember my mother always volunteering, always being busy,” Shannon said. “So, when retirement didn’t suit me, I jumped in with both feet and began volunteering where my heart led me.”
Her love of children led her to her first volunteer position: youth mentor.
“I was actually the first paired mentor in Calaveras County,” Shannon said.
She had chosen the right time to volunteer as the fledgling Calaveras County Youth Mentoring Program had just taken flight.
The youth mentor program provides youths, oftentimes considered at risk, with “responsible, good people that can help guide the child in making good life decisions.”
“It is so rewarding to watch a young person grow and develop and become a valued contributor to society where maybe they could have gone a different path,” Shannon said. “We commit for one year (as a mentor), but for many of us, the friendship develops and you just continue in their lives in a positive manner.”
Shannon admitted that she thoroughly enjoys watching children in the program grow into adults, and seeing them be happy in the decisions they are making.
Though, as a mentor, she stresses that one must remember first and foremost that they are not the parent, yet some bonds are more difficult to break, such as the bond of friendship. Shannon herself does not separate mentor from friend. Case in point: Shannon’s first child mentee is now grown with a child of her own, yet Shannon still remains in touch.
As the program grew it was noted that there was a need for the children who “aged out” from the youth program and out of the foster care system into a limbo area of life. Over time, a young adult mentoring program was developed with Shannon as a founding mentor.
“The young adult mentoring program was a great transitioning group,” Shannon said. “It wasn’t one-on-one mentoring; it was a group setting where the youth learned how to apply for a driver’s license, how to do their taxes, cook, clean, etc.; all those things that are necessary to help them become young successful adults. Oh, and my favorite rule at these group meetings was cell phones were left at the door so they learned social skills; socializing face to face.”
Now Shannon is the president of the Calaveras Menoring Foundation, which raises much needed funds for the mentor program.
“The focus for all of us was and is ‘Kids are our Future,’” she said.
While still active in the mentor program, Shannon put on another volunteer hat: docent at the Calaveras County Red Barn Museum.
“In 2004, I remember seeing an ad in the Calaveras Enterprise stating the Calaveras County Museum was looking for a docent for their Red Barn Museum,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘I can do that.’”
So one day she showed up at the door and said, “If you can train me, I can learn.”
“It is really, really fun because you meet people from all over the world while learning the history of Calaveras County, which is good because this is my home now.”
Shannon has held positions within the Calaveras County historical society as president, secretary, docent and more.
“Whatever they ask me to do, I try to do it. I’m there for them; they are like family to me.”
“We are very lucky to have Donna as volunteer,” said Rose Rinker, Calaveras County historical society office manager. “She is very dedicated and committed to not only the Historical Society but also the community.”
Though Shannon admits that there is going to be a time she may need to back off, “It’s not now. All of my volunteering has been so much fun, I really enjoy it all.”
While Shannon is rather humble about her work, those who know her are at the ready to sing her praises.
“I would like to consider myself the No. 1 fan of the Donna Shannon fan club,” said Katherine Eustis, director of youth support services, County Office of Education. “She is made of gold. It is such an honor to sing her praises publicly. Donna literally helped create the youth mentor program.”
But while Eustis thinks the world of volunteer Shannon, on a more personal level, she feels blessed to be her friend.
“She isn’t just a great volunteer, she’s a great person, so thoughtful, patient, kind and dependable; she is a true friend. A remarkable human being,” Eustis said.