Donna Longuillo is the epitome of a renaissance woman. She is a disaster-response counselor, certified social worker, domestic violence responder, entrepreneur, cancer survivor, avid camper, mother, and grandmother, and overall, a bohemian superhero.
Working her way up
Starting her career as a database analyst, Donna worked for 20 years in Princeton in information technology. Eager for a mid-career change, she began working part time in 1990 covering the phones at Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton Providence House’s safe house in Burlington County. Her positivity and calming energy began to catch on, and her efforts came into high demand leading into her becoming the supervisor.
The safe house is a haven for victims of domestic abuse, human trafficking, and other forms of mistreatment. It provides a safe space for women to escape violence and begin the healing process.
“The staff at Providence House is amazing. They are the most dedicated team I have ever had the pleasure of working with. For them I am forever grateful, they teach me every day,” said Donna.
In almost 30 years at the safe house, Donna cultivated a culture of fairness and peace. “In the safe house, anything and everything can happen,” she said. Like a superhero, she can change the negative energy and bring calm into any room she enters. She often keeps a teddy bear on hand to give her clients comfort. She began a system called “Sisterhood Shelves” where clients can choose a self-care product such as hair dye or jewelry in exchange for an act of kindness to a fellow client or staff member.
When the safe house received a grant, Donna was inspired to put it towards creating a fun environment for the children of the domestic abuse survivors. The playground she picked out allows the children to play outside and build a special bond with their mothers, and Donna lights up whenever she gets to talk about it.
Maintaining the work life balance
Donna finds her zen in crafting and creating. She and her husband enjoy camping across the country and recently purchased a new camper. When she’s not camping, she loves to crochet, make her own dandelion wine , and ferment vegetables. She also has concocted soap out of ingredients such as lavender or goat milk, creating a flourishing and lucrative soap business.
A family tradition of care
Another source of pride are her children and grandchildren. Donna’s legacy of selflessness and drive carries on to her children, as her daughter works in a group home for the developmentally delayed and her son works as an English teacher and is set to become a principal. Her beloved grandchildren, pictured below, find their success in a wide range of activities such as wrestling, acting, martial arts and more.
When asked her life’s greatest accomplishment, Donna decided she was most proud of her ability to empower women. She approaches everyone she encounters with a trauma-informed knowledge and a spirit of inclusivity, regardless of their background or beliefs.
Leaving her mark
“Everything is temporary. We are on this earth for a short time,” she said. “At some point it became important for me to leave a mark on the world. Our residents are victims who have been forced to leave their homes and live in a safe house. That is not an easy thing to do, being homeless, sharing a room with another family, living by another’s rules. Some have a good experience. Others struggle with it. But if the women who walk through our doors all learn something about being safe, empowered, and self-sufficient, I will feel that I have made a difference.”
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For more information: Trish Reilly, Catholic Charities communications, [email protected] or (609) 394-5181, ext. 1146.
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