Donna Bafundo

Spreading Pink Sparks


August 2019 Issue

by Jacie Elizabeth Millen    Photography by Christian Lee

The color pink means joy. It is known as the universal color of love, harmony, inner peace and compassion. To Donna Bafundo pink means all of this and so much more.

When retiring to Hilton Head Island 13 years ago, Donna found her passion in helping the elderly, especially those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other memory issues. “I love older adults; I always have. I honestly feel that I am doing what I always wanted to do, but didn’t have the time earlier in life with my family duties and responsibilities. Retirement has made my dreams come true.”

In 2010, Donna was asked by her church, St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church, to create an outreach program that would involve members, who are 50 and older, an outlet to serve the community. She took on the project like it was her new baby. This ministry, called “Friendly Visiting,” is made up of volunteer members whose duties are to be “friendly visitors.” A “friendly visitor” goes to assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing facilities to spend quality time with residents there, whether it be just holding their hand for a few minutes, or being a friend.

“There are priceless bonds that form between our dedicated volunteers and the elders they visit. We have had matches made in heaven, and many friendships have been made,” Donna said, with a smile from ear to ear. It is obvious she is so proud of the mission’s accomplishments and how this mission was so greatly needed in Beaufort County.

“Did you know the sad reality is that 60 percent of residents in long-term care have no visitors?” Donna asked. This made my heart break. This program has such a meaningful purpose that makes a tremendous difference. Donna enthusiastically gets to experience little spectacular moments each time she goes out to volunteer.

Donna has found her niche with memory impaired residents and created unique ways to inspire sparks of joy by using the power of Pink Magazine. Pink is known for its grand size, colorful pages and interesting content: All things she uses to connect to her memory care residents.

“One of the most meaningful ways to interact, particularly with an older adult, or a person with cognitive loss, is to engage and stimulate their senses by showing them something that reminds them of things throughout their lives to encourage life reflections,” Donna explained. “I use Pink for show and tell. I review the magazine before the session to familiarize myself, then I go through the pages and look for items that may spark a memory. It truly brings them so much joy.”

The results? “Amazing!” Donna told me anything from a picture of a dog, to a picture of a special chair in the magazine has sparked memories in the elders. These images ignite storytelling and brief recollections. “My favorite part is to see how much joy we bring to people who deserve to have someone special in their lives. They all are just so dear and lovely,” said Donna.

Donna’s dedication to this program runs so deep that she took a course at Memory Matters called “Dementia Dialogues,” that has taught her beyond her experiences. “Memory Matters is a great resource for anyone dealing with a loved one who has feelings of fear, loneliness, or insecurity of memory loss.”

Donna has also made her mark on other parts of Hilton Head, including holding a seat on the board of directors for the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, in addition to serving as a past board member of Hospice Care of the Lowcountry. Before retiring, Donna was a college professor at three different colleges, including George Mason University and an abroad program in Brussels, Belgium, for Boston University.  She created two programs at Auburn University: One was for professional development and the other was a master’s program for international studies. She became the director for both programs.

Donna has lived a full life, however, retirement is allowing her the time to fully fuel her passion to be a part of these elders’ lives and show them how important they are and that they are not alone in this world.

Donna looked over to me and simply said, “You know, I’ve been there, had my career,  family, and responsibilities. I’ve done that, and now it’s time to give back.