Moving Into Success: Donna Burke

Donna Burke first tried marijuana when she was 12 years old. It was peer pressure, she said. Later, she was first introduced to what she called “the drug of my choice, which was crack cocaine.” Then her great-grandfather died and she found out that the man she thought was her father was not her father. That sent her into a tailspin that solidified her drug habit. “I escaped into the world of drugs,” she said. She was in and out of jail, treatment facilities, and her family’s lives. She was diagnosed with HIV in jail, she had a daughter, and all the while, she prayed to God that she could get clean before her mother and grandmother died.

Then, one day, at the age of 48, she got tired. She went into a recovery program and she got sober. Both her mother and grandmother were alive to see it. “Everybody deserves a second chance,” she said. “I know that there’s a God because he heard my prayers.”

Donna with her daughter and granddaughter.

Today, Donna lives at New Endeavor’s New Hope permanent-supportive housing, where 10 women who suffer from chronic illness live in five 2-bedroom apartments in Southeast. “I’m just trying to live every day to the fullest,” Donna said.

She is now close with her daughter, Chantay, and she enjoys taking care of her one-year-old granddaughter, Serenity. They are instrumental in her recovery, she said. She drinks beet juice everyday, and she works to help others get clean as a residential aide for Echelon Community Services. “I deal with people in recovery. It helps keep me grounded,” she said. It’s her way of giving back because someone helped her, she said. “Once you get clean, you want to see everybody clean. You don’t want to see anybody suffering. It hurts me emotionally.”

Donna has been sober now almost eight years and is thankful to NEW. “I like this setting because we live in a community. We’re not isolated,” she said. Going to work she sees people on the bus who are sick from addiction and she thanks God she doesn’t live that way anymore. A relapse, she said, would be a slap in God’s face after he answered her prayer. “Recovery is a way of living and you have to change people, places and things to succeed,” she said. “I had to change everything and I did. NEW is important for people who want a new way of living. Now I remain clean because I want to live.”

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It’s been a challenging time for all of us as we adjust our days, our budgets and our expectations to COVID-19. And now, add a city and country grasping for footing after the death of an unarmed black man by a white police officer and we all feel even more out of control, unstable, and concerned about the future. Here at NEW we know that one way we can process our own feelings is to think about the needs and feelings of others.

We need you. The women need you. Your community needs you. Now more than ever women and children in DC need a safe and stable place to live.