“I’ve always felt like I’d rather donate to something that I can actually see the results, rather than writing a check to save the whales,” Johnson said.
Johnson decided that Grand Area Mentoring would be a good place to start volunteering her time.
She said she felt lucky to have a well-adjusted child of her own. Her daughter, Robin, is 14. Johnson wanted to help kids that might not have had the same benefits that her own daughter enjoyed.
She began mentoring her first kid in 2006, and she has been paired with two others in the intervening years.
“Danette has taken on the role of mentor for the past five years with Grand Area Mentoring,” said Dan McNeil, the mentoring program’s director. “Several students have been lucky enough to be matched with her, because in this role, like all the others, she shines. Patience, exemplary skill, and compassion – Danette brings to mentoring all the components that make her a cut above in everything else she does. Not only has she mentored students weekly, she’s logged countless hours helping Grand Area Mentoring fundraise, do community service projects, and expand training opportunities for all mentors.”
Johnson said that the most rewarding part of being a mentor is the hope that the relationship a mentor builds with the student might help that child later in life.
“There’s the hope that some day the kid might come back to that relationship to help them make a better choice,” she said.
Johnson noted that there is no guarantee, but the hope that she can make a difference pushes her to continue as a mentor.
Johnson’s love for children has also prompted her to volunteer her time in several other areas. She is the chairwoman of the Grand County Education Foundation, which provides another source of funding for local schools and education programs. Through that group she co-chaired the school bond campaign that eventually led to Grand County voters approving funding for construction of the new Helen M. Knight Elementary School.
For several years, Johnson has also been a member of a community council – each school in Grand County School District has one, made up of parents and concerned community citizens. She said that participating on the council allows her to learn about other volunteer opportunities at the schools.
“They might need volunteers for the science fair or Reality Town,” she said. “I really enjoy it. I like to see their science projects... It’s just fun.”
“It’s her ongoing, determined engagement that makes Danette special,” McNeil said. “Indeed, Grand County School District has seen few allies with equal dedication. Whenever a need arises, whether on a school community council or one-on-one with a student, if she can fill it, Danette will be there. Danette says she likes to fly under the radar, to quietly give back to the community however she can. We are all incredibly lucky to have Danette Johnson flying at our side.”
In 2008, Johnson found herself without health insurance for her or her daughter and she could not afford the $800 or more per month to purchase a family policy, she said.
Around that time, Johnson said, WabiSabi had done a community survey that showed a serious need for health care in the Moab community. With that in mind, she helped launch the Moab Free Health Clinic.
“I feel very passionately about the free clinic,” Johnson said. “I was one of those people who needed it. I’ve seen both sides of the health care issue.”
Johnson said that she had seen a lot of people in the valley who, despite working several jobs, could not afford health insurance.
“They’re not all just feeding off the system,” she said.
Johnson also keeps busy helping with the Moab Sea Devils swim team and assisting Moab City Recreation coaches. And she also volunteers her time with the Canyonlands PRCA Rodeo Club, helping out with a number of different tasks to prepare for the Canyonlands Rodeo each year.
Johnson’s fiancé, Kirk Pearson, is the chairman of the rodeo board. During the 2012 rodeo held earlier this month, Pearson surprised Johnson in front of a crowd of more than 1,500 people on the last night of the event. He got down on one knee and proposed to Johnson while the crowd looked on.
“I’m very lucky,” Johnson said. “I have an amazing daughter, and Kirk is a wonderful guy.”
She said she hopes that, through her volunteer work, she can help others to have better lives as well.