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Donna 'goes all out' helping others

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Donna Garratt and her son Ryan.

During the 18 years I've been a reporter, and especially in the last six for the Post-Bulletin, I've had the chance to meet many people who volunteer their time and skills for causes they believe in.

Each time I meet someone who pours his or her heart and soul into helping other people, animals or the environment, I'm amazed and inspired by the person's commitment. They give so much of their energy, despite having full-time jobs, children to take care of and other responsibilities. Many times, they're dealing with hardships of their own.

I've also found that each extraordinary volunteer has an interesting story behind why he or she became involved.

Donna Garratt of Rochester is one such person.

As a single mom caring for a child with autism, Donna has been lending a hand to PossAbilities of Southern Minnesota for about 11 years. The nonprofit organization provides services for developmentally disabled people.

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In addition to serving as board president for both PossAbilities Foundation and the agency, Donna has donated many hours of her time as the initial chair and then co-chair for the organization's primary fundraiser, an Evening of Wine and Roses. She also plans a variety of other events for PossAbilities, Arc of Southeastern Minnesota and other charitable groups.

When Donna's son Ryan, now 26, first started attending PossAbilities' youth recreation program as a boy, Donna became involved to help the organization that was helping Ryan. Today, she is even more involved not only for her son but because it makes her happy to see others benefit from PossAbilities' services.

"I guess a lot of it is just wanting to give back to our community, because our community does a lot for us," she said. "There's a lot of satisfaction because you're seeing something resulting from what you're doing, and that's really positive."

Ryan lives with Donna, as he is non-verbal and needs to be supervised throughout the day. Taking care of him is her job, she said. He also receives support services from Hiawatha Homes, for which Donna volunteers as well.

PossAbilities began helping Ryan move into the work world during his last couple of years in high school, and Donna said she has seen how having work to accomplish makes a difference for people with developmental disabilities.

"I learned how important it is ... they have jobs to do and they feel a lot of self worth because they are working," she said.

One of the reasons she enjoys volunteering is because it creates opportunities for people that otherwise couldn't happen, she said.

And when it comes to making things happen, Donna is ready and willing, said Vicki Allen, who was PossAbilities' marketing and development director for 11 years.

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"She'll always be the first one to say 'I will help and I'll start it.' And when she says she's going to be part of something, she goes all out," Allen said.

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