By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 26, 2016
ROSWELL—Luke Donovan didn’t buy into the big-ticket service projects. Instead he looked around his community and asked what could he do there.
Donovan read in a newspaper as a high school freshman that public elementary schools within a mile of Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell had large numbers of students relying on free or reduced cost lunches for food. He was spurred to do something. He phoned the school principals to brainstorm. He learned students dressed during winter’s cold just in T-shirts and pants. He knew coats would help.
How to get them? Problem-solving like the engineer he hopes to become, he found the easiest solution was to ask his friends and family.
The living room of the family’s Alpharetta home for the past few autumns was covered in coats and other donated winter garb. He collected, organized and washed them. He crammed his 2010 Honda Accord with boxes of coats for delivery. Over a thousand coats and jackets later, Donovan said the lesson is that serving others starts with the small and the do-able idea.
“I don’t think of it as some big effort that you need to do. It is just a tiny, tiny little thing. Even the smallest thing helps out,” he said.
He’s accounted for close to 300 volunteer hours and been recognized nationally. He shrugs off the accomplishment, saying others could do the same. In January, the Atlanta Hawks recognized his community service and awarded him $1,000. He donated the money to Mimosa Elementary School, one of the nearby schools serving poor children. He also gave coats and jackets to Roswell North Elementary School.
“People think of service as—‘I need to go on an eight-month mission trip to some place.’ … It can also just be finding a coat you have in your dusty basement and drop it off, and there you go, there’s your service. When people look at it like that, they are like, oh, I can definitely help out.”
Much of his work is done with the high school’s St. Vincent de Paul conference, where student leaders hope to carry on Donovan’s project next fall.
The only son of John Donovan and Mary Jo DiLonardo, both writers and editors, Luke will in the fall enroll at Georgia Tech. He plans to major in computer engineering, using his experience as the programming team leader with Blessed Trinity’s robotics club as a springboard. The family attends St. Ann Church, Marietta. Away from school and volunteering, Donovan said he likes to build computers from scratch, along with playing the piano and guitar. He’s a leader of the BT drumline and plays saxophone in the symphonic band.
Theology teacher Toni Vilardi, who is faculty advisor to the BT St. Vincent de Paul conference, said she was astonished by Donovan’s passion. Many adults are lulled into inaction when overwhelmed by a problem, she said, but Donovan did the opposite and leaned into the problem. He initiated a good model, linking students with the community around them, she said.
He is a co-vice president of the SVdP conference, and members have already made plans for him to hand over the coat project. This fall they will deliver the items to the nearby grade schools.
Donovan has mixed emotions as he prepares to leave the BT campus.
“It’s kind of scary and it’s a relief,” he said. “It’s scary in that it is something completely new next year, nothing familiar at all. But it’s a relief in the fact that you do get kind of tired of being in the same place, no matter how awful or amazing it is.”
He encouraged younger students starting high school to get involved with student life and find a balance between academics and activities.
“That’s probably the best piece of advice, just get involved,” Donovan said. “Whatever interests you at all, it doesn’t matter, just find something.”