Dana Whitt Faulkner
Dana Whitt Faulkner knows her purpose. She is on this Earth to help those who are most vulnerable. And when a person knows her purpose, she’s able to pursue it with the utmost focus and fervor. That’s why Dana is Person County’s foremost leader in early childhood education and educating children with intellectual disabilities. Her story compels each of us to find our purpose, and do it!
Q) What was your upbringing like in Person County?
A) I was born here in Person County and lived here all my life. I am the oldest grandchild on both sides of my family. My mother was a Dillehay and my father was a Whitt. We lived on a farm where I helped my grandfather pick tobacco in the Summer. He also had cows, pigs, and chickens. So I would go milk the cows with my grandma and assist when it was time to kill the livestock in the Fall.
Growing up, our Christian religion was deeply engrained in us and we attended and were active at Elijah Grove Baptist Church. That has continued to be a major part of my life and today I am a member of Zion Christian Center here in Roxboro.
Education was also emphasized in my home growing up. My first school experience was at Creative Days Preschool with Mrs. Amanda Majors. Then I attended North End Elementary School, which I viewed as an important place because both my parents also went to school there. When I was there, my grandmother was actually one of the cooks in the cafeteria. So I was a pretty popular little girl in regards to the adults because I was Mary’s granddaughter. I had a good time in elementary School. I think I was always kind of the mother hen of my friends and a lot of the friends that I met there are still my friends today. One of those friendships is my longest relationship outside of family. Her name is McKeba Bullock, formerly McKeba Goods. We met in kindergarten at age 5 and we turned 50 last year, so we always say this is year 46 of our friendship.
We left North End and Went to Northern Junior High School, and those were good years. But I think the biggest thing I remember from that time was that my seventh-grade year, I was homebound because I had hip surgery. So I was out from January until the end of the school year. The late Duke Torain was my homebound teacher and he would come out every week to bring me the work that my teachers had assigned. My great aunt, Lottie Whitt Sydnor, was a retired teacher and that year she moved into our home to make sure that I completed all of my work so I would not have to be retained and my seventh grade year would still be successful. A lot of people say I have some of her tendencies. She emphasized public speaking, standing behind the podium, articulating your thoughts, pronouncing words correctly, maintaining eye contact. Those were things that she drilled, not only with me, but with the youth of our church when I was growing up at my former church, Elijah Grove Baptist Church. Our youth group was known as the Sunbeams and she was our youth leader. She rehearsed scriptures with us and helped us to speak and recite our scriptures when we had to go to different conventions and so on. Aunt Lottie would say, “Stand up straight, hold your shoulders back.” I think what she did back then helps me to be comfortable public speaking now. I don’t jump and volunteer to do it, but it doesn’t terrify me. And I think that’s because of the drilling she did in those early years.
Q) What has your educational path been like?
A) Getting a college education was a high priority during my upbringing. After graduating from Person in 1989, I attended North Carolina Central University and graduated in 1993 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education. Then in 2010 I earned a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from Averett University. I’m also a Certified Biblical Counselor through a program that my church, ZCC, has with the Biblical Counseling Center of Arlington Heights, Ill. And I am training to become a Christian Life Coach through Breakpoint Coaching Collectives.
Q) What is your career path and what are your proudest achievements?
A) After college I came back to Person County to teach. I started at North Elementary and I taught there for two years as a kindergarten and first-grade teacher. I transition from that role into a reading recovery specialist, wherein I worked with first-graders who were identified as having reading difficulties. That was back when Bethel Hill and Earl Bradsher were elementary schools within Person County Schools, so I worked at Bethel Hill in the mornings and Earl Bradsher in the afternoons. I did that for a few years, then I transitioned to Early Intervention and Family Services in 1997. And I’ve been here in different roles ever since then. From 1997-99 I was a classroom teacher working with 3, 4, and 5-year-olds. I taught typically developing preschoolers as well as those with developmental delays. After that I took on a case management role in which I coordinated services for children and adults with disabilities. I worked very closely with families, making sure services they needed in the home were being provided, as well as connecting them with community resources and monitoring their school services, serving as an advocate for them at their IUP meetings and things like that. So those families became like my family and I became part of those families because I served them for so long—from 1999 until I became the director here in 2008. And I continued working with a lot of those families through a part-time position with a company called Independent Case Management. So I maintained those relationships with those families. I stopped working with them from a paid perspective around 2015, but those families still call me today and we still have a relationship. If something comes up and they need assistance with something, it’s still an open-door policy with me because, again, we became family.
Since 2008 I have been the director here. I oversee the day-to-day services of the program. We are a licensed developmental day center and we provide services to both typically developing children as well as children with identified needs. We have three pre-K classrooms and I oversee those services as well as the related services that they receive: occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy. We also have a behavior specialist for those children that need additional support for their emotional and social development.
In addition to being the director here, I also oversee the special education services that are provided at Earl Bradsher Preschool because I am the Head Start disabilities coordinator as well as the Exceptional Children’s preschool coordinator for the county. So even if your child is not enrolled in either of the preschool centers that are operated by Person County Schools, if your child is between the ages of 3-5 and you have developmental concerns, all of those children come through me as well. So I’m the director of Early Interventions, the Exceptional Children’s preschool coordinator for Person County, and then the Head Start disabilities coordinator, those are the three hats that I wear now.
Q) What organizations or community endeavors do you participate in?
A) I serve on the board of the Person County Partnership for Children. I’m also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. And I am working with my friend McKeba, who started a home care business, Compass Solutions of North Carolina. So I volunteer my time with her to assist in coordinating services for her clients. My passion is assisting clients, usually those with some type of intellectual disability, with accessing resources and getting what they need to be successful in the home and in the community.
Q) Why is it important that women be recognized for their foundational work in our community and our nation?
A) I think a lot of times, women are unsung heroes. We provide a lot of the emotional support for spouses as well as our children, and really any of those we adopt into our sphere of influence. So it’s good to stop and acknowledge those who provide that foundational support. Men provide the physical strength, but not so much the emotional support. I don’t take anything away from the man because his role is important. But women are just as important. When men are in the home as well as in the community providing that physical strength and protection, it allows women to be the nurturer and provide that emotional support we were created to provide. So when the two come together, you have an awesome team. Over the course of time, women have been able to advance in our professional roles, but we still carry the household. So I think it’s important to acknowledge that the woman is a strong being in her ability to support as well as lead, take care of herself, and manage the home at the same time.
Q) What do you envision for the future of Person County?
A) I am concerned about our growth and our ability to continue to attract and keep the youth who are born here. We are an aging population and I don’t see us doing what it takes to keep our younger citizens here. So I worry about that. Most of the young people I talk to, their goal is to leave. They don’t have plans to come back to Roxboro after college. And I think that’s because we are very limited in what we have to offer them in terms of employment. They see more opportunities in the world and they are going for it. So, I’m worried about the possibility that Person County will become a place where our roots are but not a place where our future is.
Q) What is your advice for girls and young women who look to you as motivation?
A) Stay true to who you are. Don’t be swayed by popular opinion and popular beliefs, but stay true to yourself. I believe that God created us with purpose, and we are naturally drawn to those things that He created us to do. I believe with everything in me that service coordination, working with folks who are disadvantaged or disabled, is my purpose. That’s what’s important to me. And I don’t think I woke up one day and all of a sudden it was important to me. I think it was important to me because He made it important to me. So to other women I say, dig deep, figure out what is really important to you, and stick with it.