When she volunteers at an organization like Al Beech West Side Food Bank, Donna Gatcha Hines doesn’t have to try hard to imagine how folks can get into a tough spot and need some extra help.
Hines, 42, who lives in Wilkes Barre, PA, has been there. In fact in some ways, she’s still there. The mother of three children ages 9, 12 and 15 was a stay at home mom when she divorced her abusive husband in 2013. “We lost everything, our source of income, home, all assets,” she explained. “I couldn’t believe somebody with two masters’ degrees could end up in this situation. I had been out of the job market taking care of my kids. I was overqualified to work most jobs and the cost of childcare made going to work at minimum wage a losing proposition.”
Yet despite her struggles, Hines continued to do something she’d been doing since her oldest boy was an infant – she volunteers. Her oldest was born medically disabled and as soon as his condition was stable, she started volunteering with the Children’s Miracle Network. These days, Hines gives back to 12 nonprofits in all, each with a special meaning to her and her family. She’s lost people close to her to lung cancer, so she volunteers for the American Lung Association. Her brush with homelessness inspires her to walk to raise community awareness for homeless women and families. “There were times when I’ve been accepting help from the same organization where I was volunteering,” she said.
Hines has also reached out to other women who have experienced abusive relationships through her Facebook page The Lost Self – Life After Narcissism. “In the beginning I felt so alone, but there are so many other women out there who need to share their stories,” she said. “We can’t listen to the naysayers – if nobody applauds us, we have to applaud ourselves.” Her message resonates – in one year’s time the page has more than 15,000 followers.
Awarded the Cabot Creamery Cooperative Award in June 2015 for her impressive public service hours, Hines feels strongly about changing public stereotypes about poverty and homelessness. “My life didn't go as planned. I didn't plan on becoming divorced, bankrupt, homeless, and living daily in survival mode,” she said. “But I’m not lazy, I’m not looking for handouts. I never said, "Why Me?” I know things are going to turn around for us, as long as I stay focused on helping others.”