The members, staff, board, trustees and – most especially – the adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities served by ARC Gateway all have suffered a huge loss. Donna Fassett, executive director of the charitable service organization since 1993, lost her hard fought battle with an extended illness Dec. 27. 

Those who have been fortunate enough to work with Donna will remember her as a dear friend, a passionate mentor for the field of social work, a determined activist of people with disabilities, and a tireless volunteer for numerous local charities from the Great Gulf Coast Arts Festival to Rotary, Fiesta and more.

She leaves behind an organization of 136 employees, nearly 100 volunteers and serving more than 800 people with disabilities. Donna personally touched the lives of every person served by the agency – knowing them all by name, and in most cases, knowing the whole unique stories of their lives.

Donna never turned anyone away – her door was always open. Even during the darkest times of her illness, Donna let everyone know that she was just a phone call away. She never failed to say how appreciative she was for what the staff did each day to improve the lives of the people served at ARC Gateway.

“Donna was an advocate for those more challenged than most of us. She believed that all people deserve the opportunity to reach their goals, and because of what I learned from Donna, I am privileged to advocate for those who can not advocate for themselves,” said Pat Young, ARC Gateway president and trustee.

No words can adequately express our sadness at her death, or our gratitude for the opportunity to work beside her. We will honor her memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the service to which she dedicated more than 33 years of her life.

Many have heard Donna refer to ARC as the Association of “Remarkable” Citizens. She remains the most remarkable of us all. Her spirit will carry the organization on, not only in the hearts of the staff and volunteers, but in the lives of those served by ARC Gateway – the children and adults with disabilities.


Long-time friend remembers Fassett’s legacy

Vincent Andry, vice chairman of the board of directors for ARC Gateway, has known Donna Fassett for about 12 years.

In all the time he’s known her, his greatest memory is her smile, determination and passion to help other people.

“Initially I met Donna back around 2000 when I moved to the Pensacola area, and true to Donna’s nature she has a heart of gold,” he says. “She invited me to get involved with ARC Gateway and the nature of how she asked I just couldn’t say no.”

With her drive and determination, Andry says Fassett could easily persuade those in the right place to provide assistance for ARC with a smile.

“She was an unselfish person. Anything she was involved with was to help other people,” he adds. “It was deeper than a passion. It was her life.”
Andry says Fassett was a strong advocate of allowing those with disabilities to live independently and be a productive part of society.

“We are all better people today having been involved with Donna. She had a smile and a drive and determination that was contagious. That’s how we will remember her. She will truly be missed.”


33 years of service,  33 life lessons and beliefs

By Donna Fassett

There are so many memories and so many lessons I have learned over the years that I felt the need to share. But the best lessons and beliefs have come from the people we serve – they will always be in my heart.

1. We all have dreams.

2. We all have talents.

3. We all have abilities.

4. We all need to be heard

5. We are all capable.

6. We all belong.

7. Every day I am blessed in hundreds of ways by hundreds of people.

8. I am grateful for our caring and compassionate staff and volunteers.

9. Hugs brighten my day.

10. Every day is a celebration.

11. Small achievements biggest rewards.

12. ARC is a family—my family.

13. I believe in the mission of ARC Gateway.

14. Every idea is worth exploring.

15. Laughter is good medicine.

16. Relationships are what matter most.

17. We are all links in life’s chain.

18. Every person has worth, everyone has value.

19. The world is ours to explore.

20. Be passionate about what you do.

21. The best thing in life is doing what others say you can’t.

22. Show people you care by what you do.

23. There are no strangers.

24. One can never wear too many hats or have too many black shoes.

25. I am fortunate to live in a community where people reach out to one another.

26. Everything is better with ice cream.

27. Prayers work.

28. When things get tough—Yankee up!

29. Everyone deserves a chance.

30. Never give up!

31. Look for the best in everyone.

32. I am thankful for Charlie and the support of my family and friends.

33. I am thankful for thirty-three wonderful years.

(reprinted from the November 2012 Red Wagon)