The immense generosity of family and friends has been a common theme that has helped Jen Donahue to see the glass half-full. During our meeting over coffee, she asked me, “Have you ever heard the story about the starfish?” I hadn’t, so she jumped at the opportunity to share it.
“There was a little boy who was on a beach where thousands of starfish had washed up,” Donahue continued, “The little boy went to the edge of the ocean where the starfish were, and began throwing them back in one by one.
“A person walking by went up to the little boy and said, ‘What are you doing? There are so many. You can’t possibly make a difference.’ Then the little boy bent down, picked up a starfish and threw it in the ocean and said, ‘But I made a difference for that one.’
That parable can be used to describe many of the life events that have made Donahue the person she is today.
Life began at the William Booth Hospital in downtown Denver; a Salvation Army hospital for unwed mothers. “I was born in Colorado and adopted when I was a baby,” she said.
Adopted by the Humperts, who had roots in Kiowa, she quickly gained an older brother, Donald, who was four at that time. However, before reaching the age of one, her life would change again when her father’s job would move them overseas.
Much of her childhood was spent in Germany and Belgium allowing her to experience different cultures. “I was tri-lingual by the time I was seven years old- German, French and English- it was kind of a fun way to grow up!”
The Humpert family eventually made their way back to states, settling in San Francisco. However, a voice inside kept telling her that she would end up in Colorado someday.
“When I was in the eighth grade, I wrote an essay to my future self about what I was going to be when I grew up,” Donahue laughed. “I was going to be the Mayor of Castle Rock.”
With all the years of traveling overseas, for some reason, she had made Castle Rock her north star. “When we would come to visit family in the area, I remember passing through Castle Rock on the way to Franktown and thinking to myself, I’m going to live here someday.”
After graduating high school in California, she applied to go to school at the University of Colorado at Boulder and was accepted. Not only would she get closer to her north star, she would gain her degree and meet her future husband.
“We met because we were bartenders together at the Clarion Harvest House in Boulder,” she recalled. “One day I walked into the lunchroom and there was table full of Spanish speaking housekeepers with a white boy sitting in the middle of them making everyone laugh.”
“I looked at my girlfriend and said ‘who’s the jokester at the housekeeping table? She said ‘Oh you don’t know Paul?’ I said ‘No. He’s cute.’ Her friend quickly reported back to Paul and the next day he asked her to lunch.
“After a long date, I walked in the door and I told my roommates, I’m going to marry him…and three months later we were engaged.”
Soon to be celebrating 25 years together in August, as planned, Jen did end up back in Castle Rock with her husband Paul. They have been fortunate to raise three boys here: Tanner 21, Aidan 19, Maclean 17. And though she didn’t realize her 13-year-old dream, she did someone who would become the Mayor of the Town she loved.
“God knew better,” said Donahue. “I wasn’t made to be the Mayor of Castle Rock.”
And when she is not beaming about her boys, she can be found helping people in need locally and abroad or teaching ‘barre’ and yoga classes at Canyon Fitness.
“I traveled to Africa three different times with an organization called HEART (www.africaheart.com). They promote community health education, work on creating water sources, counsel teenage girls going through puberty and help widows earn income, some of whom at HIV positive.”
“The first year I went to Africa, I sent out a letter to everyone close to me asking them if they had any desire to help…I was amazed to receive $14,000 dollars to take on my trip,” she proudly stated. With the money she raised they were able to build a medical clinic, which she saw completed the following year.
Then people said, ‘that’s great, but there’s a lot of need here.’ Rising to the call, for her 40th birthday, she decided to attempt to get 40 slots filled to feed the homeless at the Denver Rescue Mission. “I sent out the email and said, ‘pick a date,’ Donahue said. “I was again filled with gratitude by reserving 72 slots to feed the homeless that year!”
Though she has plans to do more to help the world, at the moment, Donahue is waiting to see what else life has in store for her. “We are soon to be empty nesters and we are waiting to see what that chapter is going to look like.”
But with the holidays approaching, both she and Paul are looking forward to having the family together again under one roof. They like to keep the Christmas holiday simple, just enjoying each other’s company. “We do very few presents and play board games on Christmas; it’s the one tradition that we keep,” Donahue smiled. “If it doesn’t involve laughter, we Donahue’s don’t do it!