We are very thankful for our dedicated staff here at Boys Home. Pictured above are many of the people who work with our young men day in and day out to ensure their success.
Donnie E. Wheatley
Executive Director, Boys Home
Donnie Wheatley became executive director of Boys Home in 1985. His relationship with the Home, though, began when he became a student here in 1959. What Donnie learned here then, what it helped him accomplish in society since, and how those experiences shaped his vision for the future of Boys Home says a great deal about the institution—and about Donnie.
Life as a Boys Home Student
By the time he turned 12, Donnie was headed toward trouble. He was the oldest boy of five children being raised by a single mother in Dickenson County, and she was having difficulty making ends meet.
Society was different then, and it was much more common for authorities to intervene. He says, “That’s what happened to me because I was doing things that would have led me on a path away from success.” After an unsuccessful experience in a foster home, “They sent me here to Boys Home to give me a chance to learn how to behave differently, and to do something that would give me a better chance,” he says.
Donnie had an early runaway incident, but soon, he says, “It began to dawn on me that I was going to be staying here, and I decided to do something constructive with my time.” Eventually, he participated in sports and student government and held campus jobs.
Donnie recalls a special turning point. “When I was in the eighth grade, moving toward high school, Mr. Burrowes, who was director at the time, asked me if I’d given any thought to going to college.” Since no one in his family had graduated from high school, “It wasn’t on my radar screen,” Donnie says. But he got some good advice.
Mr. Burrowes said, “If you think you might like to go, you need to act like you want to go from the first day of high school.” That made an impression, and Donnie began to pay more attention to his grades.
By applying himself, and with letters of recommendation from several Virginia Military Institute graduates who were active with Boys Home, Donnie was accepted at the institute and was granted a State Cadetship. That, combined with grants he received later, paid for his room, board and tuition at the prestigious school.
Academic and Career Success
After graduation, Donnie attended Virginia Tech and worked on a M.S. in electrical engineering. In 1971, he entered the Marine Corps, where his engineering degree allowed him to get into data processing. He resigned in 1974 as a Captain, U.S.M.C.R., and with a wife, one child, and a second on the way, Donnie went to work in the private sector for Proctor & Gamble.
That didn’t stop his educational achievement, though. He earned an M.B.A. at night on the G.I. Bill from Valdosta State College, and completed courses toward a Masters in Education through Georgia State University. Donnie says, “I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with the M.B.A., to be honest with you, but I knew I didn’t want to be an electrical engineer the rest of my life.”
Years before, Donnie had talked with Mr. Burrowes about returning to Boys Home after the Marine Corps, but his career in business was well on its way. Life and family, however, moved him toward a return.
Donnie had married his childhood sweetheart, whom he had begun dating when she was a high school student in Covington and Donnie was a junior in Boys Home. The two of them and their family moved back to Covington, and Donnie went to work for Westvaco. They had been back in the area for three years when the position of executive director at Boys Home opened.
Returning To Lead Boys Home
Donnie was approached by the associate director to apply for the position. “I didn’t feel like an electrical engineer with an M.B.A. fit the criteria because they were looking for someone in the social services field,” Donnie says.
But the search committee was impressed by his commitment to the institution and his interest in its continued success, and Donnie “came home” as executive director in 1985. Nearly 30 years later, his commitment remains every bit as strong.
“You can offer a young man an opportunity to influence his future, to take stock of where he is, and put himself in a position to really change areas in his life that might be hindering him. That’s what draws me to it and keeps me going and keeps me focused,” Donnie says.
In addition to leading Boys Home, Donnie is a member of the Covington-Hot Springs Rotary Club, which he has served as president. He has received numerous community awards and was conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by the Virginia Theological Seminary in 2009. He served on committees during the enactment of the Comprehensive Services Act and was elected President of the Virginia Association of Children’s Homes. He has been awarded the VACH Distinguished Administrator Award and received the Catherine Hershey National Education Award from the Coalition for Residential Education. He was awarded the Dabney S. Lancaster Community College Medallion of Merit.
Donnie’s Vision for the Future
Donnie is very aware that he serves as a role model for every young man who comes to Boys Home. Since he was once a student here, and has “walked this walk,” he is attuned to their needs but is also the first one to set a high standard of achievement. “From first contact, we try to make clear to them what they will be asked to do, and what we will do for them in return,” Donnie says.
Looking forward, Donnie sees a real opportunity to do more. “Boys Home has a physical plant to serve more kids than we do if we can get it in the right physical condition, and take full advantage of everything that’s here,” he says.
He continues, “We want to work on the academic side because many of the kids who come here are not prepared to handle the academic load that’s in their potential. And we want to develop another track for those young men who aren’t going to catch on academically or don’t want to go that route, and want to become skilled craftsmen or work in some similar fashion.”
And finally, he remains committed to one feature that makes Boys Home unique. “I believe strongly that there is a place for residential education, and I want to continue to build on the things that work and provide a place for those kids who are probably not going to be served in other ways,” Donnie says.
Donnie’s affection for Boys Home is infectious, and his energy and ability to interest others in the school never seem to wane. “This is not about doing a job,” he explains. “It’s about living a life.”
Campus Life Manager, Boys Home
Chad arrived at Boys Home in 1999 and graduated in 2004. He went on to earn his B.S in Psychology and MBA in Project Management from Liberty University. Currently, he is a seminary student.
While at Boys Home he focused on academics, boy scouts, and basketball. His way of thinking transformed when he heard the gospel of Jesus. Also, the support provided by Boys Home enabled him to develop discipline, integrity, and service to others. This would serve him well in his military endeavors.
Upon graduation, he entered the U.S Army and attended Basic Training at Fort Benning, Georgia, then started his first semester at Liberty University. He was called to his first tour of duty in 2006. Upon his return in 2008, he decided to serve at Boys Home.
He and his wife Laura served as house parents for several years before he was called for his second tour of duty. He says, “While overseas, I gained insight into the plight of children. This strengthened my passion for continuing to serve at Boys Home.”
After his second tour of duty, he returned to campus. He says, “My desire is to help each boy and meet the ministries endpoints.” Since returning from Iraq, he has served in different capacities. Currently, he is serving as associate director of operations.
His passion is to build meaningful relationships with every boy. He says, “A caring relationship with each boy is foundational to building moral character. Since we desire a moral man, then we must reflect this moral character.”