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CCU Atheneum: Chris Donevant-Haines
Chris Donevant-Haines

Get to know Chris Donevant-Haines: A fitting piece of the CCU puzzle

by Connor Uptegrove
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Chris Donevant-Haines, under a plaid fedora with teal accents and a Chanticleer scarf draped over her shoulders, sits at a busy desk crowded by knick-knacks, colored post-it notes lining her computer monitor and towering bookcases on each side of her interior office walls. Bumper stickers and colorful magnetic letters coexist with Slinkies on her desk and bookcase.

Some of the stickers, though, don’t match the childlike décor, such as the one for the national suicide hotline or the “What Am I Feeling Today?” chart (hers is set to “ecstatic”) but it all seems to fit together, anyway. No single item in the small office seems out of place, yet every piece of it is unique and specialized, creating more than a workspace. When Donevant-Haines sits at her desk, she is also perfectly in place, the culmination of nearly 14 years at the university just miles away from the tiny beach house she visited on vacation as a little girl.

“I’ve seen this whole region grow,” said Donevant-Haines. “I’m one of those people who can say, ‘I remember when.’”

The beach house down the highway from Coastal, which her grandparents lived in all their lives, was her escape from a coal miner’s town in West Virginia where she grew up. She still remembers searching for activities to occupy the time with classmates in the little borough.

“Sometimes we got bored because we were a creative bunch,” said Donevant-Haines, who still keeps up with those childhood friends. “Some of them moved away. Some stayed there their whole lives.”

She praises her history in West Virginia as a part of her DNA and doesn’t try suppress it.

“You do everything to get rid of that hillbilly accent, but it’s part of the fabric,” she said. “I think that it’s easy for people to hide who they are. But you have to allow your true self to shine through.”

Even during her college career at Marshall, she always kept our teal-covered campus in mind, and began working in health and wellness as a licensed counselor after graduating. She interned at Horry Georgetown Technical College just to be closer to Coastal. She was hired in Counseling Services at CCU 14 years ago.

“The thing that makes Coastal so special is the sense of community,” she said.

Donevant-Haines fits right in with that community as the assistant director of wellness outreach in the LiveWell Office, which was created three semesters ago to focus on the whole picture of health for members of Teal Nation.

“There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle of health,” said Donevant-Haines, citing mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, financial and sexual, among others. Some of her pieces include two bottles of water on her desk to stay hydrated and positivity buttons hung on a corkboard near the window.

She’s made a home in the LiveWell Office after moving over from Counseling Services, pioneering new efforts to help the mental health of every population on campus. She rapidly grew campaigns, such as the Out of the Darkness Walk to Prevent Suicide. Last year’s walk – only the fourth iteration of the event at CCU – won the National Award from the Student Affairs Administrators of Higher Education and raised more than $17,000.

The holistic approach of the LiveWell Office has also become an essential cornerpiece of her personal health and wellness. When she was four years old, Donevant-Haines was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes, which she says was the culprit of future health issues. In the early 2000s, after three years of kidney dialysis, Donevant-Haines received a rare double organ transplant of her pancreas and kidney. After the transplant, she was put on anti-rejection medications, but over time, they weakened her immune system. This left her vulnerable to lymphoma, a cancer that attacks the infection-fighting cells in the immune system.

Donevant-Haines began chemotherapy and fought the lymphoma. It left her out of the office often, but that didn’t stop her from being of service to the world around her.

She cared for her miniature schnauzer, Coco, who is blind and diabetic. He was rescued from a local rescue organization. She had the support of her husband, Steven Haines. Their 28th wedding anniversary will be celebrated this February.

When a student stops by her office, she is patient and recognizes that their wellness puzzle pieces won’t all be connected right then and there at her desk. She looks for those resources that can help them, noting that they are easy to find on campus. She freely discusses mental health issues with them.

She also knows her colleagues in the LiveWell Office have her back. Mike Cruise, CCU’s health educator, only needs two words to describe why she pours herself into each fundraising walk, each student with a story, and each effort to touch new lives.

“She’s passionate.”

Beyond Coastal, she uses her experiences and skills in the mental health industry to be an advocate in the community for wellness, in the fight against domestic violence, and for organ transplant awareness. She tries to be a voice for those who have been silenced in the community where she found a sense of belonging during those childhood vacations.

This month and the new year’s calendars are filled with marked important dates for Donevant-Haines. She celebrates 14 years at an institution she is passionate about, and on Jan. 2, she received her final PET scan results: cancer-free!

It also marks the end to what Donevant-Haines calls the most challenging semester of her career. Too often for her liking, Donevant-Haines found herself dodging a hurricane, receiving chemotherapy treatment or staying home during the long process of healing. As she recovered, she trusted that the pieces of the puzzle would connect eventually, yet one place lingered on her mind.

“I wanted to be at Coastal as much as I could.”

So, when Donevant-Haines sits behind her busy desk this semester crowded by knick-knacks, colored post-it notes and towering bookcases, she feels complete. She feels … “ecstatic.”

 

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