If there’s a child in need in northeast Arkansas, Danna Johnson is there to help.
Johnson, GRI, broker-owner of Johnson Real Estate Group in Jonesboro, Ark., says she equates being a real estate agent with service. So, at the start of her career, she got involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “Twenty-five years ago, the office I was with wanted to do something with the community,” she recalls. ‘’
At the time, Johnson’s broker's sister-in-law volunteered with Make-A-Wish and came to the office to do a presentation on the organization’s work. “We all just kind of fell in love and knew that’s what we wanted to go with,” Johnson says.
Not long after, the office received their first “Wish kid”—a child with a terminal illness who wants to do, see or experience something special. “We partnered with a local radio station. It was Valentine’s Day,” Johnson recalls. “We were trying to raise $5,000, and people who made a donation could have a song dedicated to a loved one. We raised $21,000. Six people from the brokerage and a radio station did that.”
Johnson was so gratified by the community response that she turned the one-time fundraiser into an annual event called Have-A-Heart. The team of six agents grew into hundreds of volunteers. Now three radio stations, schools and businesses participate. During the event, volunteers stand with donation buckets at street corners all over northeast Arkansas, and the radio stations put on a 12-hour donation drive on-air to support the children of Make-A-Wish. “We average about $400,000 in donations every year in just 12 hours,” Johnson says.
This year marked the 25th fundraiser; the annual event has brought in more than $6 million in donations since its inception. Johnson took a moment to reflect on how much being a part of Make-A-Wish has changed her life. “My very best friend came out of my involvement with Make-A-Wish,” she says, referring to one of the radio station employees she met during her first fundraiser. “We have what we call the ‘Make-A-Wish tribe’ that goes through everything together in life—the good, the bad and the ugly. We talk weekly, sometimes daily, and these are the people that support me in every part of my life.”
That includes her newest initiative, which involves supplying “first night” backpacks to children in foster care. Johnson says she knows many people—one of her agents, a cousin and a close friend—who either foster children or have adopted children from the foster care system. For years, she’s heard that these children are often removed from their homes suddenly and have nothing but a trash bag with a few belongings. They don’t even have the essentials to get through their first night in the childcare system.
Johnson says she was further inspired by a 2022 Good Neighbor honorable mention, Lisa Hoeve, who created Hope Pkgs, an organization that gives out first-night backpacks to foster children in need. “I saw what she was doing, and I know that my strengths are organizing and leading and fundraising, and I knew that I could do that,” Johnson says.
In October 2022, Johnson launched Project Patricia in honor of her mentor, former Make-A-Wish CEO Patricia Brown. Johnson was 22 when she started her work with Make-A-Wish, and she says Brown shaped the very fabric of who she is and how she gives back to her community. “She always wanted to leave a legacy behind that involved children, so this is my way of giving back to her,” Johnson says.
Project Patricia, in partnership with a local organization called Together We Foster, has provided 60 first-night backpacks to foster children in need. “The DHS agents have 24/7 access to Together We Foster through a lockbox,” Johnson explains. “When they pick up a child that needs the essentials, they can go to Together We Foster, and our backpacks are there waiting. The backpacks serve every age range and contain the essentials—undergarments, a change of clothes, toothbrushes and toothpaste, diapers, pull-ups, stuffed animals and more—to make it through that first night.”
Johnson started her own real estate brokerage last year, and she operates Project Patricia from the office—a model for how she wants her business and community service to meld. “It’s important for the agents and our clients to know that, yes, we work here and make a living here, but we want to give back. I think it’s important for every real estate agent to take some time out of their day or week and do something to give back to their community.”