A familiar face on the soccer field and at the Safford City-Graham Library, Donna Harrison has made Graham County her permanent home.
Harrison and her family moved to the Gila Valley in 2009 when her husband began working with a friend. Although the friend eventually moved out of the county, the Harrisons stayed in Safford and her husband opened his own medical practice. A former U.S. Air Force veteran, she works at her husband’s medical practice and volunteers within the community.
This is the longest time the Harrisons have lived anywhere, she said. As former military members, she and her husband are both used to moving from place to place. However, she and her family like the Gila Valley and have chosen to make it their home. Because they have claimed the community as their own, Harrison said she feels she needs to volunteer to do her part.
“I think it’s important to contribute,” she said.
Harrison volunteers with the Friends of the Library, the Mount Graham Regional Medical Hospital Foundation and she is the Gila Valley's American Youth Soccer Organization commissioner.
Volunteering at the library just made sense, she said.
“I’ve always enjoyed reading and used the library over the years. It’s natural for me, and I really enjoy it,” she said.
Paulette LeBlanc, president of the Friends of the Library, said Harrison is an essential asset to the nonprofit group.
“She’s such a gift to our organization,” she said. “When she signs onto an organization, she gives it her all.”
Harrison volunteers as the Friend’s treasurer, which takes a lot of work, LeBlanc said.
“It pushes her beyond the typical treasurer of a small nonprofit,” she said. “As a result, the Friends of the Library feel very secure about the funding we receive and our bank account.”
The friends have investment accounts with the Arizona Community Foundation, LeBlanc said. The Friends of the Library also has an endowment account, which helps the volunteers secure the library's future.
“She’s so quiet, you wouldn’t know with Donna. She’s so humble and goes about her business,” LeBlanc said.
When Harrison isn’t volunteering at the library or with the Hospital Foundation, she's volunteering for the AYSO.
Danny Smith, Gila Valley AYSO board member, said Harrison is constantly on the move.
“She refs soccer games from dark-thirty in the morning and she sets up the fields every Saturday morning,” Smith said. “She’s just everywhere.”
Smith remembers watching Harrison at a Thatcher Unified School District board meeting when members spoke against creating a high school girls soccer team.
“Thatcher just didn’t want to do it," Smith said. "They gave the parents a new obstacle every time they came up with a solution. 'It’s too late, it’s too costly,' then Donna raised her hand and said, ‘I’ll get it.’”
Harrison contributed the $5,000 the school needed to begin the program.
She remembers being at that 2013 board meeting.
“It felt like it needed to be done. We’ll come up with the difference for the money you need,” she said. “I found out about it by chance. My son later told me he thought that when I raised my hand that I would be volunteering to referee the games.”
Sierra Vista resident Raven Linden, 24, was on that first team. The experiences she had on the team shaped her perspective on trying new things.
“It’s a whole other thing to be one of the first individuals in a new program. The coaches, team, and schools were all learning together on how to navigate this and what we can do better,” she said. “I think the teamwork was one thing that I really valued and took away from that experience. Also, being on the soccer team taught me it’s OK to try new things and to not be afraid.”
To Harrison, sports play an important role in children’s upbringing. Lessons are taught through sports on how to handle victory as well as defeat. She played soccer while she was in the military and her family was always playing sports.
"I like sports, and it felt like something I could contribute the community," she said. "
Harrison has learned all of the hard work is worth the friends she's made.
“I’ve learned that I can’t do it all,” she said. “But I’ve gotten to meet a whole lot of people that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t gotten involved.