It’s a Port Macquarie shift in 2020. Over the buzz of washing machines, you hear the laughter of Donna’s captivated audience as she shares one of her well-known tales of hardship. Sitting on an orange chair, she is retelling a story of her childhood with comedic flare, trying to encourage her sister, Dee [a fellow Orange Sky volunteer] to join in. That was the special thing about Donna, she understood the light and shade of hardship. She knew how to create a safe space for people doing it tough to feel like they belong.

A passionate mid North Coast volunteer, Donna had an undeniable knack for connecting with friends. Donna was not unfamiliar with hardship, experiencing homelessness herself at points throughout her life. Her lived experience made her unafraid to look grief and suffering in the eye, whilst always finding laughter amidst pain.

In 2021, Donna’s health deteriorated. She fought her illness, continued to volunteer and kept her same vibrant attitude right till the end. Orange Sky is immeasurably grateful to Donna for choosing to spend her precious time donning an orange shirt and supporting the Port Macquarie community. Donna’s kindness continued by donating a gift in her estate to Orange Sky. We want to acknowledge the extent of Donna’s support of Orange Sky during and after her life.

In many ways, Donna’s life trajectory changed at the time she decided to become an Orange Sky volunteer. Over the years Donna’s ambitions hadn’t always come to fruition. Challenging life experiences and neurodivergence often impacted Donna’s attempts at a fair go. Seeking a fulfilling gateway back into the workforce, Donna learned about Orange Sky and signed up as a Port Macquarie vollie.

Original comment from Donna’s application (4th Aug 2018):

“I love talking to people! I love telling them stories to make them smile and have plenty of empathy as I was in a similar situation many years ago!”

Donna was out on shift soon after and became a well known and dedicated part of the Port Macquarie team, alongside her sister Dee who was already volunteering. There is no better depiction of Donna’s style of volunteering than her application. Donna’s storytelling, laughter and empathy became an important part of every shift and something that friends looked forward to. 

“Once Donna got the taste of giving back, she ran with it,” said Dee. Donna said yes to every volunteering opportunity Orange Sky had. She attended most shifts and formed connections everywhere she went. Donna’s confidence and wellbeing continued to improve as she began a TAFE course in counselling. A lifelong dream of hers. 

Donna’s health battles became life threatening in 2021, while her professional and personal trajectory was at a point of great pride. Donna’s mother, Susie, vividly recalls her seeing an Orange Sky shift request and, despite being in palliative care at the time, desperately asked to be the one to fill it.  “Do you think I could do it?” she pleaded. 

Donna’s legacy reminds us that we all deserve chances to get back on our feet and a place to belong. Orange Sky is so grateful to have been an outlet for Donna’s kindness. Each volunteer brings a different perspective and story to the tapestry of Orange Sky. Thanks to Donna Sturgess’ patch, the entire Orange Sky tapestry is much brighter.

Thank you to Donna’s mother, Susie and sister, Dee for kindly sharing about Donna and cultivating these words. Our hearts go out to Donna’s loved ones and the Port Macquarie community of friends and Orange Sky volunteers that meant so much to Donna, as Donna means to them.