The promise: Donna Raibley described as one of community’s better angels
Donna Raibley took life’s lemons, and made lemonade.
Her early memories on her grandparent’s farm in Massachusetts are happy. But then her parents separated when she was very young. A age 11, her mother and stepfather moved Donna and her siblings to southern California, then to rural Northern California. Donna describes her home life as chaotic. By the time she was 16, she was on her own.
She married at 19 to a man who later enlisted in the Air Force. While living on an air base in the wilds of South Dakota, Donna began cleaning for military families to supplement her husband’s pay. Cleaning in the military way is “white glove” cleaning with meticulous standards.
Her husband was assigned to Korea, leaving Donna at home with her children. It wasn’t too long before she received a “Dear Donna” letter, letting her know that after four years she and the girls were no longer going to be a part of his life.
A divorce ensued, leaving her a single mother with daughters to raise. She had no resources to fall back on but her youth, her work experience and an entrepreneurial spirit.
She knew how to clean, and after several years she had built a very successful business with employees, and a grateful and loyal clientele.
After eight years as a single mother, fate intervened and she met Bob Raibley at a wedding in Chico. She describes him as the love of her life. They settled in Redding, and Donna continued her cleaning business. Several moves later Bob’s job with PG&E brought them to Nevada County.
Donna immediately built another cleaning service, Meticulous Maids. She soon had A list clients who valued the extensive services that she offered. Life in Nevada County changed her life, she built her cleaning business, decided she could act, became involved with Foothill Theatre and several other performing groups, and became a Realtor. Everything she touched succeeded, and she built a wide network of friends and supporters.
TRYING SOMETHING NEW
Having reached her goals in real estate, Donna decided to try something else. She had inherited a little bit of money, and sold her business. She didn’t need to work and felt drawn in a different direction. She enrolled in Sierra College and took a few courses, but she still had the feeling some other destiny was calling her.
Donna then found another unexpected vocation. A friend caring for an aging and ill husband needed a break and asked Donna for some time. Donna did it. She found she could also provide comfort to those who were dying as well as give the caregivers some relief.
There was something spiritual about this work that felt right. Her friend Yvon Dockter asked Donna for the same kind of assistance. She became a regular visitor, providing Yvon’s husband Craig companionship in his last days. She would read to him, hum some music, holding his hand from time to time. One day in a burst of energy he sat up and said, “Let’s start a business. We can provide respite care for free. When I get through this we can do it.”
He drew her to him and said, “Promise me you will do it.” She made the promise.
Even as Donna describes this powerful moment, her eyes well up. Craig died, but the promise that was the catalyst for this new organization did not.
That promise changed her life. It became her mission. She admits that she did not know what she was doing. People tried to discourage her. They told her the county already had too many nonprofits. But Donna believes that things will manifest if one really wants them. She posted notes all over her home of the things that had to be done: choosing a name, obtaining approval as a nonprofit by the government, raising money, recruiting volunteers, forming a board of directors and more. Donna had been a serial entrepreneur with her cleaning businesses, but this was a different world.
One of her former clients and now close friends, community philanthropists Julia Amaral and Mark Strate, committed a substantial amount of seed money with a promise of continuing support. The name chosen was One Source, Empowering Caregivers. She enlisted writer and photographer Tom Durkin to volunteer his time and media expertise to get attention and support for the infant nonprofit. Tom described Donna as the “Queen of Gratitude,” generously motivating and empowering everyone who came into her orbit.
Donna’s charisma and vast network enabled her to find and convince people to help. Former volunteer coordinator Harriet Totten said when Donna asked her to coordinate the volunteers, Harriet had to say “yes” even though she had never done anything like it before.
Donna took on the role of executive director, something she did without salary for five years. Through the force of her personality and deep commitment to her promise to Craig Dockter years before, she created an organization which could sustain itself. It is the only organization in Nevada County that provides free respite care. With the hiring of a salaried executive director, Caroline Seylor, Donna was able to step back.
Some of Donna’s friends describe her as one of the community’s better angels. As she said recently, “I did this out of love and not for any personal gain. I feel so blessed and it is an honor to share my blessings. Isn’t that why we are all here? And that is why I had to keep my promise.”
Don W. Scoble is a long-time resident of Nevada City
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