This Christmas season at Upbring we’re sharing some of our favorite gifts — the kind that continue to be a blessing long after they’ve been received. From the gifts of home and comfort to health and education, we’ll share inspiring stories as our way of saying thank you to all of you who so faithfully and generously made these gifts possible.
“Belonging means feeling loved and accepted for who you are and knowing that your story has meaning and purpose,” says Donna Palmer, Chief External Relations Officer at Upbring.
Donna has dedicated her life to serving those who live in the margins: those communities and individuals who may not have access to the mental, physical and spiritual support they desperately need. Donna wants to help the broken-hearted. Having grown up with a father who was orphaned at a young age, and later adopting a child of her own, Donna’s journey is closely tied to the stories of the children and families she now champions.
Watching her father struggle to overcome his childhood trauma, Donna witnessed firsthand the paralyzing effects of feeling alone in the world.
“When he was a boy, they didn’t have Trauma-Informed Care like we do now. My father never got the help he needed, which led to a confidence crisis that I saw repeating itself over and over again for his entire life. He was such a brilliant man, but he never felt like he belonged,” she says.
This theme of “otherness” and belonging would resurface when Donna adopted a 12-month-old girl from an orphanage in Moscow. Ellie stood out, as she was one of only a few Asian children among the blond and blue eyed babies in the room.
“When I went to the judge and said I wanted to adopt Ellie, the judge actually asked me ‘Are you sure you want this child? Doesn’t her appearance bother you?’ And I said – ‘No! She’s the one for me, and I love the way she looks!’”
Donna immediately connected with this child who was considered “less than” and different. Having seen her own father struggle to overcome feeling unwanted, Donna was not going to let this little girl slip through the cracks. She was perfect. Her differences made her beautiful.
Now Ellie is 8-years-old and thriving under Donna’s loving care. That feeling of “belonging” has been a two-way street: Ellie has the support she needs to believe in herself, and Donna has gained a new outlook on life. She admits that, before Ellie, she struggled with staying present and fully immersing herself in each moment. Living with a confident, energetic and hilarious little girl has made Donna realize what matters most in life is truly just being together.
“The most amazing thing about Ellie is how wise she is. She always tells me, ‘Mommy, don’t call me wise. I’m too young to be wise. Call me smart. You have to live a long time to be wise.’ But she really is an old soul,” Donna says.
To say Donna is proud of her daughter’s transformation is an understatement. Ellie has blossomed from a hesitant, self-soothing infant to an affectionate, outgoing young girl. Donna is determined to help Ellie realize her full potential and give her every opportunity that her father never had.
“I feel like I’m taking the pain of my childhood and investing everything I’ve learned into my daughter, who will have the chance to be whatever she wants to be. It’s bringing a sweet end to a tragic situation and creating beauty from the ashes.”