The privilege Erin Daunic feels in representing STARS — and the dedicated group of professionals on staff — is evident. Her enthusiasm and passion for the efforts of this local non-profit become clear once you meet Erin. As Chief Development Officer, Erin helps lead the organization in giving back to kids — primarily those facing social and emotional hurdles. And these kids are something everyone can get behind. Nashville’s own “stars” (including Vince Gill, Troy Gentry and Dierks Bentley) have shown support for STARS. Erin believes when you are pouring your heart into the health and wellbeing of children, everyone benefits — and we agree. Welcome Erin as today’s FACE of Nashville, and learn more about the great work she is doing!
Tell us about your background.
I am originally from New England and went to college in Virginia, where I majored in theater with a concentration in British literature. Leaving college, I landed a job working for a small college in their admissions office. From there, I was hired at the Webb School of Knoxville. I realized quickly that although I wasn’t suited to be a teacher, I loved working with kids — especially teenagers. I met my husband on a blind date, and we were engaged within six months and moved to Nashville. I went to Vanderbilt for my masters in education and human development counseling. I did an internship in a school for kids with addiction — they had all been through treatment and were in a 12-step recovery program.
Two years after graduation, I started a family and went back to work at the school when my daughter was 1. I never set out to be working in the realm of fundraising or development, but I was passionate about the passion and strength of the kids at the school, so it was an easy story to tell. When the school closed, I was put in touch with Rodger Dinwiddie, CEO of STARS-Nashville, through mutual, professional acquaintances, and he hired me.
What is the mission of STARS?
Our ultimate mission is to support young people in overcoming social and emotional barriers to their success (bullying, violence, substance abuse, anxiety, depression). At the base of all the services we provide is our belief that when children feel respected, safe and happy, they succeed.
It is hard to put STARS into a sound nugget because we do so much! STARS’ direct services reach over 80,000 kids each year, and we serve nine counties in Middle Tennessee.
What are the different programs within STARS?
There are five major program areas:
- Kids on the Block works with elementary school students through art of Bunraku puppetry.
- Student Assistance Program, our largest program, places counselors in middle and high schools (and some elementary schools) throughout Middle Tennessee. We are putting licensed therapists in schools to work alongside the school counselors and administration, and to offer another level of support for any kid who is struggling.
- We also provide school, home and community-based Services for Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.
- Youth Overcoming Drug Abuse is our drug abuse outpatient program.
- We have a robust Trainings department. We do trainings locally, as well as on a statewide and national level for both adults and youth And, we have a robust Trainings department that has a local, statewide and national footprint.
Tell us about the upcoming Cherish the Night event.
It is a competitive market in Middle Tennessee. There are close to 2,000 nonprofits vying for the same airtime in front of donors. I believe Cherish the Night has carved a niche. There are so many deliciously generous and incredibly philanthropic people in this community. Cherish the Night is at the crossroads of where Nashville’s vibrancy meets: music, art and philanthropy. There will be a great silent auction, a cocktail reception and a benefit concert. All proceeds go directly to direct services, which is critical.
It all started with the benevolent Vince Gill. He did the first seven years of the concert for us. Last year, Troy Gentry, who, with his wife Angie, was a longtime supporter and friend of STARS, stepped up. He blew people away with the most incredible lineup of singers and songwriters. When we all got the news of his tragic death, it was shattering. This year, we are going to be paying a beautiful tribute to Troy during the event.
What is the biggest challenge you face in reaching young people?
We are unique in that we have immediate access to kids during the school day, because we provide school-based services. It isn’t that we have a hard time reaching young people, the challenge comes in what the young people we serve are dealing with.
Over the past few years, one of the most significant causes of referral to our school-based services is anxiety, which results in depression. We work closely with kids who have indicated a desire to harm themselves, whether that is self-injurious behavior or contemplating suicide. It is unbelievable the rise in anxiety and depression — in rural, urban and suburban areas.
What do you hope to accomplish in your tenure as chief development officer?
The challenge in this line of work, at STARS and like-minded nonprofits in the community, is that we aren’t at a shortage of need for our services. Even knowing there is so much hope we see on a daily basis, there are things to accomplish.
I would love an enormous endowment that would cover our expenses on an annual basis. Every school in Middle Tennessee deserves one to two STARS counselors. I would love for STARS, in the next five years, to have an adolescent treatment program in all the counties we serve that connect the schools to the juvenile drug courts of the communities through a youth overcoming drug abuse program.
When you aren’t working, where can we find you around town?
The older I get, the more I am a homebody. So you can usually find me at home, or because I have two active children, you can find me on a soccer field, baseball field or basketball court. You can also find me at Bridgestone Arena watching hockey or visiting the boutiques in East Nashville.
What does a day in the life of Erin Daunic look like?
I am grateful to say that there is not a typical day. I thrive well with some element of chaos. Mornings are spent with the kids. Each day starts with family, transitions to work and ends with family.
What is the best piece of advice you have received, and from whom?
When my daughter was in kindergarten, she wanted me to cut her hair. So we went from long hair to a bob. She looked at herself in the mirror and said, with complete amazement in her eyes, “Mommy, do you think Mrs. Martin will REALIZE me?” And that’s it. My goodness. Yes, everyone wants to be realized, and that is what STARS does. No one is anonymous. Kids who cross the path of our services no longer feel invisible. Now my daughter is 15, and she is still teaching me.
What books can be found on your bedside table?
I just finished Stamped from the Beginning, a historical account of racism by Ibram X. Kendi. I am really into Russian history, so am reading Former People, which is about what happened to the aristocracy during the Roman Dynasty. And The Craving Brain by Dr. W. Anderson Spickard Jr., which is about addiction and the importance of the spiritual component.
I love young adult fiction and want to start reading The Westing Game, which my son is reading.
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith and family?
Laughter, the ocean and friendship
Thank you to Erin Daunic for answering all of our questions. A special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s gorgeous photos of Erin!
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