Many teenagers dont know what they want to do a year from now, much less for their entire careers.
But that wasnt the case for Bonnie Hopkins.
I felt a calling to work for nonprofits in my mid-teens, said Hopkins, now 51, who was hired as the first executive director of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Georgia in Macon 13 years ago.
As a teen, Hopkins learned to set goals for the money she earned, beginning at age 15 in her first job -- at Chick-fil-A in Macon Mall.
I allocated money and split it out for specific things, she said. If I wanted to go to camp and needed money for that or if I wanted clothes -- something special I had to pay for myself -- I was always conscious of allocating dollars to fulfill my goals.
Hopkins grew up in Macon as the second-oldest of five children. She was born Jan. 1, 1962 -- the second baby born that day at what was then Macon Hospital.
Hopkins went through some major events early in her life. Her mother died when she was 1, and her father remarried when she was 10. One of her brothers died from cystic fibrosis when he was a year old, so thats been a part of my family, a genetic disease, and I have had multiple family members die from it.
The disease also influenced her career choices.
Hopkins was involved in Girl Scouts beginning with the Brownies. In middle and high schools, she got involved in Explorer Scouts, a co-ed Boy Scouts program.
I really got involved in Scouting from the program side and coordination side, she said. I was state president of our Explorer group when I was 15.
First post-college job helps Hopkins find her passion
Hopkins made a big step when she graduated from high school by deciding to go to college out of state.
One of the greatest gifts (from her parents) was giving me the wings to fly, and the encouragement to fly, because it was a big deal to leave Macon. ... I knew I wanted to work in the nonprofit arena, so I went to a program they had at (High Point College, which is now High Point University in High Point, N.C.). That was the whole reason I went.
Hopkins landed her first full-time job with Duke University in Durham, N.C., in its pediatric development office, and that decision helped her focus her career path.
That not only really started my career in nonprofits, but (it also created) my passion for pediatrics, raising money to help childrens health care, she said. I was there nine years. It was a great place to be, a great place to learn.
She moved to Charleston, S.C., in 1993 for a similar position at the Medical University of South Carolina. Her career then brought her back to her hometown.
In Macon, she took a job as director of development and public relations with the Georgia Industrial Childrens Home for about two years before moving to the Museum of Arts and Sciences in a similar position.
Ronald McDonald House project like giving birth
When Hopkins learned in 2000 a Ronald McDonald House was opening in Macon, she applied and was hired as its first director.
Hopkins didnt have much to work with at first.
She was given a couple of floppy disks and a few files. Some money had been raised for the building, but we didnt have the property, we didnt have the architectural plans completed, she said.
In so many ways, it was like birthing my own children. It was something that took a long time, took a lot of nurturing, and then when it happened it was joyous.
After about $3.4 million was raised, the 13-bedroom house opened at the corner of Forsyth and Orange streets in mid-November 2002. During the past 11 years, more than 4,000 families have spent the night at the house.
We are never closed, Hopkins said. Were like a hospital. We are open 24/7, 365 days a year.
About five years ago, the Ronald McDonald House acquired adjacent property to expand its mission, but the downturn in the economy moved that project to the back burner, she said.
We are moving forward now with a $5.5 capital campaign, she said. We have about $1.5 million and will be working to bring that back to reality.
Ian Wilkinson, Ronald McDonald House board president and a volunteer at the house, said he has worked with Hopkins since she came on board and is impressed with the job she has done.
Shes the right person for the job because she buys into the cause, shes committed to the cause, and shes got a heart for people, Wilkinson said. From my point of view, we dont have to worry about how the organization is being run.
Kathryn Dennis, president of the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, agrees that Hopkins is perfect for her position.
Shes energetic, focused on her mission and a very positive, upbeat person, Dennis said.
Shes deeply committed to her cause, and she communicates her enthusiasm to others. ... I think she does a superior job.
The Ronald McDonald House has served people from 100 counties in the state and many out-of-state families who were traveling through the area when a child was hurt in an accident or a mother went into labor.
The families have a common bond, they share a common interest, Hopkins said. While their child is being cared for at the hospital, here they get support from one another.
About 120 people volunteer at the house monthly, usually doing a three-hour shift. An evening meal is served every day which is provided by local restaurants, churches or other organizations. A meal schedule is prepared a year in advance.
One hundred percent of our funding comes from donations, she said. Its a heavy weight.
Her favorite part of the job is the reward of seeing families relieved at the time they need it the most, she said. They can focus their time and resources on taking care of their child.
Wilkinson said Hopkins also understands how to manage the organizations budget.
Shes very good with money, he said. Because we run on contributions and donations, she makes the dollars stretch and gets as much from them as she can.
Running becomes a passion -- and way to raise money
Hopkins manages to find fundraising opportunities wherever she can to help the Ronald McDonald House.
About two years ago, after losing about 60 pounds, Hopkins daughter talked her into doing something physical, and the two began running.
They participated in a training program called Couch to 5K, and they have run in the Labor Day road race in Macon.
Well, I was bit, Hopkins said. I started running and did a few races.
A friend who was going to run in a half marathon at Walt Disney World began bugging Hopkins to join her and other friends in the race. At that point, Hopkins had run in three 5Ks.
I said, I will run if you all will consider doing it as a fundraiser for the 10th anniversary of the Ronald McDonald House. So, 12 of us ran and raised about $15,000 at Disney in February 2012, Hopkins said.
This past February, those 12 women became 115 people from all over the country and Canada and Mexico that ran and raised $70,000 for our Ronald McDonald House right here. So, thats what Im working on now. We have 145 that will be running next February, and we are recruiting people to be on the team next year.
Hopkins, who has now lost about 100 pounds, is training to run in a full marathon in Chicago this October on a team sponsored by the Ronald McDonald home office.
(Running) has become a big part of my everyday work life and almost my everyday home life, she said.
Shes unsure whether she will still be running 10 years from now, but Hopkins is sure of one thing.
I know that no matter where I am, I will be doing something related to children and health care, she said. My heart and my passion is helping families.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.