From Middlesex County College
I remember my first semester at MCC, one of my fellow Bonner leaders Iya Bekondo's condition worsened, and she was too sick to attend school or even continue on at Democracy House. When Pat found about the reason why Iya had all of a sudden stopped showing up, we got together and drove to her house along with a few other students. Out of that Meeting in Iya's living room, the Iya project was born. Donohue was such an essential part in organizing different fundraising activities and in conjunction with her church, we were able to raise enough money for the anti rejection drugs and care that Iya needed post surgery. This is the person that I will always remember him for a selfless, caring, thoughtful, loving, confident man who was always willing to help and would go beyond what was required of him. He inspired us all to become active members of our communities and to try our best to help those who are less fortunate
Pat founded our Center for Civic Engagement here at Middlesex County College, nearly 20 years ago. The program has seen many changes in faculty since his time here, but the one thing that remained constant was the story of Pat. He was always introduced as a celebrity of sorts to new staff members. I was privileged to meet Pat briefly at this past SLI, and it truly felt like meeting someone famous. His love for our institution and program was immediately evident, he even offered to meet with us after the conference to brainstorm ideas to enhance our program. The legacy Pat established here continues today. He is remembered fondly by faculty and staff who worked with him during his time here. Pictures of him are found randomly (like the ones we recently discovered of him on a 1999 service trip to Utah). Awards earned during his time here still hang on the walls. Pat is still very much with us at Middlesex County College. In his passing, we are further motivated to continue creating opportunities for our students to discover passion for serving others, just like we believe he would have wanted.
Pat had an enormous impact on students at Middlesex County College, and the community at large in Edison, Woodbridge, Perth Amboy and New Brunswick. But my greatest memory of Pat was when he led the effort to save a student's life. Iya Bekondo, a native of Cameroon, battled kidney disease for two decades. Harsh diet and medication kept it at bay for a time, but a transplant was the only solution. She started at MCC in 2002 and joined Pat's Democracy House. Her condition worsened and she took time off of school. Students came to visit to ask if she was ok and she told them about her condition. The problem was she had no insurance and as a foreign student, was ineligible for aid. Her mother was a nurse and was able to arrange the surgery for free, but they wouldn't proceed without assurances that Iya could cover the cost of the anti-rejection drugs, $30,000. So Democracy House got to work. They ran a golf outing, a concert, a serve-a-thon, and solicited donations from the college community. In just a few months, Democracy House raised half of the necessary funds; Iya's church, First Presbyterian of Metuchen, raised the other half. Iya had her surgery, had a quick recovery and is doing very well. "I'm here only because of them," she said. Iya later started a foundation to aid kidney patients with medical expenses. While Pat led the effort, of course he credited the students: "It's one of the most amazing things I've seen in my professional career," Pat said. "When I talk with students (at TCNJ), I always use the Iya project as an example of what students can do. They can change the world in profound ways." That's what Patrick Donohue did. He changed the world in profound ways.
I met Pat in 2000 as a student in his introductory political science class at Middlesex County College. I was a somewhat aimless 21-year-old at the time. I had dropped out of high school three years earlier during my senior year, and had been working dead-end jobs ever since. A year before I started Pat's class, I had begun taking some classes at Middlesex part-time after earning my GED. It wasn't clear where I was going with my life. Pat undeniably had a positive influence on the direction I wound up taking.
I remember one of the first assignments in his class was to choose and bring to class a song, which each student would then play and identify the political theme represented in the lyrics. Fifteen years later, I still remember it vividly. I brought in Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth." I was intrigued by the novelty of the assignment, and it made me look forward to the class (at a time when looking forward to school was not a common emotion for me).
Soon after (maybe even the same day of the song assignment), Pat announced a community service opportunity for students. There were several sites where students could volunteer to help people in need. I had not done much service work to that point in my life. I don't recall how much detail he communicated at the time, but it was enough to spark my interest. I spoke to him after class, and ultimately wound up participating by working as a tutor in the after-school program at Amandla Crossing transitional housing facility.
That opportunity, which I likely would have never been aware of had Pat not promoted it, had a dramatic effect on my life. It helped me develop empathy, awareness of my privilege, and ultimately a desire to work for social justice that has guided many major decisions in my life. I wound up working at Amandla for a year, including as a counselor during its summer program and earned an AmeriCorps scholarship as a result.
The service work I completed, which included ad-hoc projects beyond Amandla, was not the only benefit I derived from the program. Pat had organized a diverse group of students contributing to various efforts, and that community he forged for all of us enriched my life by exposing me to people whose life experiences and opinions I would not have otherwise been exposed to. I was learning and growing in a way that typical classroom activities rarely produce. None of this would have happened without Pat.
Another vivid memory I have of Pat was when I was in his office to ask about some bureaucratic issue related to the scholarship money I was earning through AmeriCorps. He was ready to advocate for me to receive a tuition deferment from Middlesex, so that I could wait until the AmeriCorps award had been received. Without my asking, he was thinking about how he could help me. Although I didn't need it at the time, that sort of proactive effort was something I'm sure he extended to all students he interacted with, and for some, those helping hands may have been the difference between them being able to stay enrolled in school or not. It was an act demonstrative of his personality, to think how others may need help and to offer to provide that help without needing to be asked.
Before I met Pat, I was a high school dropout with a handful of college credits who had rarely engaged in community service or spent much time thinking of the struggles of others. In the year after I met Pat, I wound up mentoring homeless kids, engaging in other community service projects, and traveling to Harvard for a national conference bringing together students engaged in service work. In the subsequent 15 years, I transferred to a university, majored in political science, and graduated college. Ultimately, I graduated from law school. I also volunteered as a "Big Brother," worked to register people to vote in low-income neighborhoods, volunteered with an organization to help low-income people get their tax returns at no charge, interned with organizations that help people with disabilities and the elderly understand their Medicaid/Medicare benefits and that sought to expand access to health insurance. I also have worked for the state and federal governments and other nonprofit organizations. It is not an exaggeration to say that the path I chose to travel was largely dependent on Pat Donohue taking time out of his life to encourage students to think about communities beyond their own.
I am immensely sorry for your loss, and extremely grateful for what Pat did for me and others. The positive influence of his life lives on.
My thoughts are with all of Pat's family, friends, and loved ones in this time. He always inspired us to be the change, to do right by others and help our communities whenever possible. These are things that were deeply instilled in the minds of us students. Many of us would not be where we are today without him. Forever thankful to Pat and to his family for sharing him with us.
Last year, I began a project as part of the corporate responsibility program at a friend's company. He said he wanted to give back some of his blessings and asked for some help. I immediately thought of the Democracy House project, which Prof. Donohue talked about during my 101 Political Science class. A project which I was so proud to have been part of and my dream was to replicate it. Currently the program has 13 kids from rural El Salvador accessing higher education online. In order to maintain their scholarship, they are required to do community service in their town, which are considered dangerous due to gang violence. This is was Pat taught me... To fight the good fight!
When I arrived at Middlesex County College in the fall of 1996, I had no idea that on my first day of classes I would meet the person who would change my world-view, setting me on a path that has made my life rich beyond measure. Growing up in Colombia in the 80s and 90s, a time period when violence and corruption were unavoidable, I was always very cynical when I heard people talk about affecting change or improving the world around them. The seemingly insurmountable challenges that pervaded my country left me feeling powerless and void of hope. So, when Pat walked into class asking us, What’s new in the world today? inviting us to engage because we could and should help mold the world today, I thought he was just another academic with nice rhetoric and no praxis. This could not have been farther from the truth.
In hindsight, my nihilistic outlook as a college student was the façade I adopted to hide my fear of how ugly the world can be. It was an easy way to wash my hands of engaging in any issues of social justice. I was aware of many injustices, wanted to address them, but did not know how to do so. Pat gave me the foundation I needed to embrace hope for change; hope for a better world. It sounds incredibly trite, but the example he set as an activist-scholar empowered me not only to dream of change but to act on these dreams.
Years later, I found myself working with Pat as project coordinator for the Trenton Center for Campus/Community Partnerships (TCCCP). Seeing him engage with community members and college faculty was like watching a master artisan at work. He effortlessly forged partnerships, sometimes even friendships, between these two groups who often have reservations about working with each other. Pat could call a local NGO, ingratiate himself with whoever answered the phone, learn what their research needs or interests were, call a professor up with an general idea for a research project, and next thing you know, a few months later, everyone is sitting down for a beer to celebrate the wonders of community based research! I’m not suggesting that it was easy work, but Pat’s determination to get things done, to work toward that “bigger picture,” constantly propelled us forward. I think at the heart of Pat’s uncanny ability to organize was just that: heart. The man was all heart and his commitment to improving the lives of others fueled all of his actions, strengthening communities wherever he went.
Pat was also the first person to suggest I consider teaching. Now, eleven wonderful years into my career as a high school English teacher at Trenton High School, I wish I had thanked him for showing me how we can all be conduits for social change; I wish I had thanked him for his mentorship and liberating pedagogy. If he were here, he’d probably say that all the thanks he needs is my continued commitment to improving the lives of my students and my community. So, next September, when my students walk into class full of teenage angst, apathy, and the feeling that they have no voice, I’ll be sure to pass along Professor Donohue’s message of change and justice. Maybe I’ll even ask them: What’s new in the world today?
He was my political science professor in the beginning of my freshman year at mcc, and after reading my very first essay for his class he suggested I apply for AmeriCorps. I was still lost and finding my way in life, and this group he brought me to changed my life. He changed my life for the better in so many ways. His passion and enthusiasm to create positive change was infectious, and inspired me to teach. I started tutoring, and fell in love with teaching. Without him, without my experience, I would not have ever picked being a teacher. I do not think we as teachers even know the impact we have on our students. He is someone I will always remember, and have been unbelievablely blessed to have had him in my life as a teacher, boss, mentor, and friend. The world needs more people like Professor Donohue. I will always remember him in heart.
Pat was such a great teacher, mentor, and friend to me over the years. He showed all of us what public service truly looks like. My best wishes to his family, and I'm so deeply sorry for their loss.
Pat's influence on my life, both professionally and personally, has been paramount. I view Pat as the individual who took my hand and helped me negotiate the world of academia and domestic service. Pat was my first college professor at MCC so many years ago, and the individual who would help me identify how the knowledge that I was obtaining in the classroom had real life applications outside of the classroom. This was instrumental in my eventual commitment to 8 years of higher education. Pat's example also provided me with a model of how a teacher can have such a positive impact not only in the classroom, but on the lives of students outside of the classroom. This example would influence my decision to pursue the profession of teaching which is what I enjoy today. Working closely with Pat for 5 years at Middlesex County College through the Community Scholars Corps first and then with Democracy House, has been instrumental in my success in obtaining a career in education and my perspective on how public education can be a powerful vehicle for service. I can't say enough about how this wonderful man has contributed to who I am today; my tutor, my friend, my professor, my director, my role model, my mentor... I offer my heart felt condolences to the Donohue family and I will always keep you in my prayers.
I was a student of Pat in his political science class at Middlesex County College in 2006. Every class, I'd hear laughing from the room next door. He explained it was a community service organization he ran and we should check it out.
Later that semester I did just that. I interviewed for an AmeriCorps position and was accepted. On a Friday night in September 2006, Pat gave a speech to the new cohort of Democracy House members. I was in awe and felt like I could take on the world. I was 19 years old and already feeling invincible; Pat instilled a desire in me to harness that drive and use it towards doing good. Pat was leaving Middlesex to journey to TCNJ that year and I saw him sporadically. But his words drove me through my first year.
In my second year at Democracy House, I was asked to co-coordinate our program, and became involved with the Bonner Foundation, and by extension, Pat more informally. He was the kindest, nicest guy and always willing to answer my questions.
I ended up seeing him more as I progressed academically, and eventually working for the Foundation for two summers. If not for Democracy House and Pat's vision, I would not have ended up at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, or as an AmeriCorps VISTA, or with an MPA from Cornell University. Our accomplishments are not ours alone; I owe mine to my family and friends, and importantly, to my time at Democracy a House, Pat's legacy.
I truly hope we can all remember the amazing man Pat was and the amazing things he's done. The loss experienced by his family I can only imagine. I hope it brings them solace to know that I am one of many to be touched by Pat's actions, and that not only those he has directly worked with have been positively affected, but those we work with. His reach is far expanding and the world has lost a great man, but one who has left an amazing legacy.