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Outreach advocate leads connects groups

Donna Brundage feels called to serve and give back.




By Kaye Hult

Through her work, community outreach and church involvement, Donna Brundage has her fingers in many pies, leading various boards, serving on different committees and connecting people.

Her work as community outreach advocate at the St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) HELP Center in Coeur d'Alene consists of 30 percent seeking grants for the programs provided by the HELP Center and 70 percent networking with their social services throughout North Idaho, particularly in Kootenai County.

"I've always had a predisposition to help those less fortunate," said Donna, reflecting on what it takes to do the work she's doing and the many barriers between people in these times.

"To break through barriers we're facing now, people need to start one conversation at a time with people whom they don't know," she said. "We need to start at the grass—no, the grass seed level.

"I don't talk about things that divide us from the people with whom I work," she reflected. "We're just interested in working together, not anything related to our politics or beliefs.

"We ask, 'How are we going to solve this problem? How are we going to fund this?' That allows us to find the ways in which we can work together," she said.

Donna described how she connects groups and events in her ties with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), where she sits on the NAMI Coeur d'Alene board and is the new president of NAMI Idaho, and with her ties to many other community groups.

NAMI events and programs are a means to educate people about issues related to mental health, so she mentioned several upcoming events she is helping organize.

• As a fundraiser, NAMI will show "Orchestrating Change" at 6 p.m., Thursday, April 18, at the Human Rights Education Institute. It is a documentary about the world's only orchestra for people living with mental illness.

• Coeur d'Alene's 2024 Mental Awareness walk will take place on Saturday, May 4.

• NAMI programs include the Connections Support Groups for people with mental health issues and the Specialized Support Groups for Mental Health Court.

• On first and third Tuesdays, the Disability Action Center in Post Falls hosts support groups for friends and families of those with mental health issues.

• NAMI Nights Out on the last Friday of each month gather people for a social activity, such as a barbecue, a rafting trip or a class on painting.

"They provide a safe space to be with others, where no one will judge others, because they all have their own issues," Donna said.

• NAMI and other organizations will collaborate to present the third annual Housing Resource Fair in September.

Other groups Donna is involved with as a leader or committee member are the North Idaho Alliance of Care (NIAC), Project Home Share of Kootenai County and the Region 1 Behavioral Health Board.

She was chair for the recent Region 1 Idaho Housing and Finance Association's Point-In-Time Homeless Census.

Donna also is the president of the CDAIDE board and is just moving to the position of past president of the 208 Recovery board.

Along with those involvements, Donna attends meetings regarding the local ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) population, the Suicide Prevention Area Network (SPAN) and SPANWALK.

At her church, First Presbyterian in Coeur d'Alene, Donna has helped set up a series of events called Coffee House Conversations to discuss issues. Participants share their stories, and a discussion leader offers education on the topic and information on volunteer opportunities. Then they enjoy coffee and snacks.

On Thursday, March 23, they will discuss recovery.  A presenter from 208 Recovery will offer community resources.

Upcoming conversations will be on environmental concerns, suicide prevention and parenting in a digital age, she said.

Donna participates in other church committees, is a member of the Session and serves on the Missions Committee.

Donna grew up just north of Scranton, Penn., where she attended Marywood University, graduating in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in communications and English.

"I wasn't interested in working in either of those fields, but I've learned never to say never," she commented, noting that her current role relies heavily on communications skills and using Zoom.

After college, Donna saw an ad for working with juvenile delinquents in an alternative treatment program called Vision Quest, where the treatment was living and working in wilderness camps. 

The teens prepared for and then participated in wagon trains traveling from Pennsylvania to Florida, and to other parts of the country. She stayed with Vision Quest for 17 years.

In 1997, Donna moved to Sandpoint, where she worked five years for CEDU, which offered alternative education for teens. Its Ascent program included a ropes course and a wilderness program.

After holding a variety of other jobs, including owning a restaurant, she had trouble finding work when the economy declined in 2009.

That year, she began working on an online associate degree in graphic design from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, which she completed in 2013.

She began working with the SVDP HELP Center in 2016.

At first, she helped run Trinity Group Homes, a SVDP program of semi-independent homes in Coeur d'Alene, Hayden and Post Falls.

"The homes provide safe and affordable housing for adults with severe and persistent mental health challenges," said Donna.

Working with Trinity, she became familiar with the many social service programs in North Idaho, such as the ALICE group.

She also began learning to write grants.

Over time, her work has evolved into her community outreach position, in which she uses much of what she learned in college courses so long ago, she said with a grin.

In 2020, she moved to Coeur d'Alene.

When asked why she does what she does, Donna replied, "It's my calling."

In part, she cites having gone to a Catholic university, where they repeated over and over, "You serve. You give back."

In part, she believes that caring is innate in her.

"While I was in high school, we had an exchange student from Austria," she recalled. "He was bullied. I flipped out in front of my senior class in that person's defense."

Donna likes Idaho, but wishes it was more diverse, more welcoming.

For information, call 208-664-3095 or email

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March 2024