Danielle Kirby is spending her time off this year giving back.
By William Kekevian
With children old enough to take care of themselves and some-well earned time off from work, Danielle Kirby could have spent her vacation anywhere.
But what’s surprised her friends and family was her decision to spend it working in an earthquake-ravaged, third-world nation.
Kirby, a 36-year-old nurse living in Cinnaminson, will leave Saturday and spend eight days tagging along with Samaritan Purse, an international Christian relief organization, on a mission to Haiti. There, she’ll be volunteering as both a nurse and an educator.
“There’s a lot of sexually transmitted diseases, there’s malaria, typhoid, education comes along with the treatment,” Kirby said.
Kirby has spent the last 20 years raising her two children. She met her future husband when she was only 12 years old. At 16, she became a young mother and quickly learned to become a caretaker. She’s dedicated her youth to making her family life work and she’s been a success.
She’s employed at Kennedy Health System in Cherry Hill. Her son Chris, 17, is a receiver for Cinnaminson High School’s football team and her daughter Eboney, 20, is planning a family of her own.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Why are you going to Haiti?’ It’s not that it’s not in my character,” she explained. “I had my children very young. Now that I’m older, I’m able to reconnect with myself and who I always was.”
She goes on to say she’s always put her family first, but now her children are becoming adults, she’s exploring a passion that was dormant.
“I think the less fortunate can teach me something about myself. I hope to teach myself, I hope this opens my eyes,” she said. “Maybe I’ll just look at life in a different way and appreciate what I have. Be less materialistic. But it’s not about me. I want to teach and give others what I can.”
A 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook the small island nation of Haiti in January 2010. Kirby says her first reaction was to reach out. She called the Red Cross and offered any assistance she could, but encountered too much red tape. But when a fellow nurse told her about an opportunity to leave with a mission, she signed up right away.
“I became a nurse three years ago to help people and travel the world,” Kirby said.
Although she’s never even been out of the country before, she’s no stranger to overcoming adversity. She recalls a particularly emotional incident at a PTA meeting.
The other parents, all older than she, would make her feel ostracized, she said. She didn’t finish high school and says she felt other parents’ judgmental stares and tongue-clicking.
“That made me more determined than anything else,” she says, “I was never going to let anyone make me feel stupid again.”
She says when it came time to talk to her children about going to college, she wanted to set an example. She decided to go back herself.
“Going back to school was very frightening for me. I struggled in math. I didn’t even think I was going to be able to complete nursing school,” she said.
Kirby’s plot to set an example is working too. Not only are her kids taking college seriously, but they’re following her path toward volunteerism. They’ll both be joining her to volunteer at a soup kitchen.
“At first my son was totally against it,” she said, but eventually he too found satisfaction in giving back.
Eight days in the slums of Haiti are bound to be fraught with dangers, but Kirby’s already overcome so much. She’s even planning her next ‘vacation’ and she’s still not rewarding herself.
“Next year [Sumaritan Purse] is going to Africa,” she said. “I want to go too.”