Apr 11, 2015
Social worker Dona Abbott has been with Bethany Christian Services for 38 years. As she reflected on her career, she said, “The Lord put me in the right place. I wanted to honor him wherever he placed me.”
Currently branch director in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dona began her Bethany career as a case aide in college. When she graduated she was promoted to foster care caseworker, and then over the years she served as licensor, therapist, foster home recruiter and supervisor. She also directed foster care, residential services, infant adoption, pregnancy counseling, volunteer services, older child adoption, and refugee and immigrant services.
Now, offering a successful service model that can be replicated, the Grand Rapids branch Dona directs has assisted innovation, expansion, and development in adoption, refugee and immigrant programs, and family preservation services in more than 100 Bethany U.S. offices.
A Heart for Refugees
One of Dona’s most significant contributions has been in Bethany’s refugee services. Then President Ford requested foster care assistance from private agencies for Vietnam’s unaccompanied refugee children and Bethany took in kids from refugee camps. With Dona’s creative and innovative leadership, today Bethany’s Refugee and Immigrant Services include multiple services and programs. Dona is also a nationally known and in-demand speaker, an expert on promoting justice, child welfare and mental health services for refugees.
Bethany’s president and CEO, Bill Blacquiere, said of Dona’s work on behalf of refugees, “Dona set the vision for Bethany’s refugee program and grew it beyond anyone’s expectations. She recruited talented and passionate staff, demonstrated courage, and took appropriate risks. Dona viewed her work as a calling and never forgot she was called to serve for a greater cause than herself.”
A Heart for Children
Working with a dedicated team of Bethany adoption staff, Dona secured grants to broaden recruitment efforts for older children. She championed youth services for kids who “get lost” in the foster care system. Her staff adapted evidence-based practices to develop independent living programs for older youth leaving foster care. Through Dona’s leadership Bethany also strengthened and diversified post-adoption support for adoptive families by offering education, respite camp for adopted children, and trauma-focused therapy.
A Heart for God and Others
Dona’s colleagues say her legacy will also include mentorship. “Dona has been my mentor for the past 35 years,” one coworker said. “I could not ask for a more supportive, wise, strong, Christian leader. She has inspired me and others in the work we do here at Bethany.” Another shared, “Dona motivated me to bring my best every day for our clients. She challenged me to consistently improve and advocate for those in need.”