“It’s wonderful to watch something snowball out of your passion,” declares Marcia Donager, at the beginning of our interview. “And Northbrook Citizens For Drug And Alcohol Awareness [NCDAA] is my passion.”
With her lively grey-green eyes, short silver hair and flawless skin, the petite and stylish Donager makes following a passion look good.
She discusses her 26-year volunteer history with NCDAA—and the many programs and opportunities to help others that evolved—in the organization’s vaulted park district brick-and-glass room. It’s filled with posters, quilts, T-shirts and literature that demonstrate great depth and breath of community support. NCDAA obviously has touched many thousands of lives.
Donager founded NCDAA in 1983. In today’s celebrity rehab tell-all world, it’s difficult to believe that issues surrounding alcohol and drug use just weren’t discussed publicly at that time.
But they weren’t.
It took a remarkably brave woman to answer then First Lady Nancy Reagan’s call to tackle those taboo subjects at the community level.
Donager had just completed a 2-year term as the chair of the Northbrook Junior High Parent Association, when she was invited to launch the Northbrook initiative.
“I’ve always had a passion for working with families and community,” explains Donager, a psychology and social work major from the University of Illinois.
She jumped into the difficult job of educating families in an effort to raise awareness and foster prevention.
The number and scale of the programs she helped launch since then are amazing. She quickly describes efforts that prove one person pursuing a passion can help make life better for an entire community.
Donager is quick to credit the rest of NCDAA’s board, but as its president, she led the movement.
Her successes have included:
- holding town meetings that unite clergy, policy-makers, youth, social workers and schools
- sponsoring an annual Drug Awareness Month
- creating the “Just Say No Walk” in May for children from kindergarten through high school
- helping create school district policy
- launching a referral service
- founding a high school health fair and other school-based programs such as Snowball
She is particularly proud of developing multiple venues for parents to learn about prevention and to talk with other parents, which helps break through the defacto “No Talk Rule” that plagues prevention efforts
“We help make it OK to discuss drugs and alcohol,” she says as her eyes light up.
“When we get parents talking together, that’s one of the greatest therapies.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise that, under Donager’s nurturing touch, those parent discussion groups have grown beyond the issues surrounding intoxicants and have seeded other NCDAA programs, such as Northbrook’s annual “Parent University” and a tri-annual parenting newsletter.
Donager has fostered wide civic support, too. Northbrook’s Rotary, Park District and Women’s Club help NCDAA as do local businesses. Donager and NCDAA have grown a strong network of community support.
Her two children are now grown, but that hasn’t diminished her enthusiasm for helping kids and families. Donager believes that it’s harder than ever to parent, and this just seems to drive her to work harder.
She also believes that it’s never been clearer just how important a parent’s role is.
“Research is starting to [demonstrate] that healthy behaviors start in the home,” she explains, adding that parents have greater influence than is immediately obvious.
Donager is particularly concerned about the effects of affluence on healthy child development, as is reflected in the most recent newsletter and Parent University curriculum.
Her greatest concern, though, will resonate with most parents.
“The kids who are trying to do the right things but are struggling to make friends, those are the kids I’m worried about!”
With that Donager ends our visit, just in time to start working with a teen doing community service.
It’s a beautiful summer day, and the Burberry-jacketed dynamo could easily have chosen lunch with the ladies at the club over time with a troubled teen. But this is a woman who clearly lives to make a real difference for others.
Northbrook families are most fortunate to have Marcia Donager working so hard as a volunteer on their behalf. She is a true Local Treasure!