Refining the leaders of tomorrow

June 3, 2011

By Tim Pfarr

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Woman’s nonprofit provides mentors for high school girls

Newcastle resident Danna Johnston operates a nonprofit organization that helps teenage girls and a company that addresses skin care issues specific to people with dark skin. By Tim Pfarr

When children reach high school, they often start learning from those outside the home. That was the case for Danna Johnston.

“When I was in high school, it wasn’t a parent that said, ‘Go to college,” she said. Instead, it was an adviser.

After graduating from Franklin High School in Seattle, Johnston attended the University of Washington, majoring in international studies. She then landed a job in finance, where she worked her way up the ladder of success. In 2009 — nine years out of college — Johnston decided it was time to give back.

Simultaneously, she launched the nonprofit Danna K. Johnston Foundation and the for-profit AloeForMocha Skin Care. The former focuses on helping at-risk youth, and the latter is a line of products that addresses skin care issues specific to people with dark skin.

In April, Seattle University recognized the nonprofit with its Red Winged Leadership Award, which honors unsung heroes who align social awareness with business practices.

“I had no idea that anyone knew we were doing this besides the school, parents and participants,” Johnston said with a laugh.

The nonprofit’s cornerstone is the Successful Young Woman’s Program at Rainier Beach High School in Seattle. With the help of seven volunteers, the organization mentors about 50 female students during high school, helping them develop study skills and healthy habits, and get into college.

“I know that Rainier Beach has lower test scores and maybe a little different culture,” she said.

Students are also treated to guest speakers and health and wellness seminars from a registered nurse, in which students discuss — in a group — dealing with the stressors of high school.

“Danna inspires me because she’s been so successful in inspiring other people,” Seattle University business graduate student Brook Buchanan said in a video detailing the Red Winged Leadership award recipients. “I spent a day at Rainier Beach High School and got to meet these students that are so focused on what they want to do in terms of going to college and what they want to do after college.

“It’s really inspiring to be around,” he said.

Johnston runs her organizations from home, working as the visionary leader and supervisor for the nonprofit. However, she spends much of her time at Rainier Beach with the students in the Successful Young Woman’s Program.

“I’m their cheerleader,” she said. “I want them to graduate and graduate on time and get accepted to college.”

Johnston said she hopes to expand the program in the future to encompass male students as well.

“There are a lot of young people out there that need guidance and aren’t getting it,” she said. “We have the responsibility to get up and help young people. It sounds cliché, but they really are our future.”

Johnston lives in China Falls with her husband Jim and their two children.

“In a word, I guess it’s pretty amazing,” Jim Johnston said about his wife launching both organizations. “The time and resources show me that you’ve got a person that is incredibly passionate and dedicated to both efforts.”

The couple discussed the possibilities of launching businesses prior to launching both organizations.

“Launching the for-profit and the nonprofit at the same time is a lot of work,” she said. “I’m busy, but it’s good busy. I’m enjoying each second of each day.”

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