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Donna Schnitker. Director of Early Childhood Programs for Harney Education Service District

A soul filled with wanderlust and a big heart for kids, meet Donna Schnitker. Donna is the Director of Early Childhood programs for the Harney Education Service District, is the President of the Oregon Head Start Association and sits on the Early Learning Council representing Head Start, Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education and the Early Learning Hubs. Donna has been working in early education for close to 30 years and is driven by giving kids and families with limited resources or disabilities the opportunities they need to thrive in school. “It’s so rewarding to watch children and their parents move the dial to where they didn’t think they could go.”

Donna lives in Harney County but her life and who she is, is influenced by her experiences around the world. She lived in Ethiopia as a young girl attending school and has traveled extensively throughout Europe and many other countries. Donna’s most recent adventure took her to Mexico on a mission trip where she cut the hair of 60 people in 4 days! Need a quick haircut?!

While Donna feeds her wanderlust, her home is in Harney County. She’s lived in Burns for more than 30 years: “I loved raising my son and daughter here. I like a lot of the things cities have to offer but I also like living in a rural area. If I went to the grocery store and forgot my checkbook they would let me take the groceries and come back and pay them later. Recently, I had a flood in my garage and a problem with my pressure tank and a friend came over and fixed my issue. I knew who to call and how to get help. That’s an advantage of being part of a small community. I think Harney County cares for other people better than any other small community I’ve ever seen.”

High Desert Partnership is fortunate to have Donna serving on its board. Donna was recruited for the board because of her work with early education and also because she and her husband worked at ranches so she understands the peaks and valleys of working the land. But initially it was the Youth Changing The Community Collaborative that attracted her.

For the youth, Donna is very passionate about career connected learning. “Not everyone goes to college, what about those kids who don’t go to college? What are the options for trades, we should be pursuing that.” This is personal for Donna. Donna’s daughter was valedictorian, went to college, got her masters and her doctorate and teaches college level courses. For her son, school was a struggle and he barely graduated. He went on to study a trade and today is a heavy equipment hauler. “If I hadn’t been connected to education he may have never found that. We need to open doors for our youth here locally so they can have opportunities like what my son had.”

When it comes to the High Desert Partnership it can be hard to understand what we do, it was for Donna but she’ll tell you today: “If you invest the time to listen to people and their opinions, that might be better or different from your opinions, this makes the process so much richer. High Desert Partnership brings that to the table, getting to a YES in a very thoughtful way. Coming to the table with a neutral facilitator, no one knows what the outcome will be, the group actually creates their own outcome, that’s pretty amazing.”