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Don Grimsley’s kids inspired him to help other kids. This month, the Kiwanis Club honored him for that service
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Don Grimsley, the 2019 recipient of the John W. Jacobs Jr. Youth Service Award, has dedicated more than a decade toward helping kids grow up to become their best selves. - photo by Scott Rogers

Don Grimsley realized more than a decade ago that traveling regularly away from his wife and kids was not the life he wanted.

“You can make all the money in the world, but if you can’t enjoy it and your family, why are you working so hard?” Grimsley said.

He left his investment banking job and relocated to Gainesville in 2003.

His kids and the Hall County community’s heart for philanthropy turned his gaze toward a new passion — serving youth.

Grimsley was honored for this service March 19 when he received the 2019 John W. Jacobs Jr. Youth Service Award from the Kiwanis Club of Gainesville.

Brent Hoffman, who works with Grimsley, nominated his friend for the award.

Hoffman said Grimsley is not only a giving parent and husband but gives to other people’s children constantly. He describes his him as “an unsung gifter.”

Grimsley and Hoffman are commercial real estate agents at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services. Grimsley also owns and operates four Dairy Queen fast-food restaurants in Habersham County.

With his office next door to Grimsley’s, Hoffman said he couldn’t help but recognize his co-worker’s generous spirit.

“You hear these anecdotal stories from him like, ‘I got to run and keep scorebook for a basketball team, ‘I’ve got an Eagle Scout board meeting,’ or ‘I’ve got to run over and help design a kid’s pool at the country club,’” Hoffman said.

Grimsley said he experienced one of his first sparks of giving back when his son John came into the world.

John was diagnosed with spina bifida, which is a birth defect involving the improper formation of the spinal cord and backbone.

His 8-year-old son cannot move the lower portion of his body beneath his ribs and relies on a wheelchair for mobility.

“If you met him, he’s just fantastic,” Grimsley said. “If you just saw him sitting in a chair, you would think nothing is wrong with him, other than he just can’t walk.”

When John was born, his daughter Emma, who was around 11 at the time, wanted to start a charity for people with spina bifida.

With the help of her father, Emma gathered up neighbors and her siblings to launch Rolling Hearts.

For around six years the charity raised money for the neuroscience department at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, purchased books for libraries at children’s hospitals and found other ways to benefit people with spina bifida.

“I let them run it, but I was behind the scenes,” Grimsley said. “I think seeing my own kids do something like that, it became a driver to make me want to get involved and give back.”

Grimsley and his wife, Mary, sat on the Spina Bifida Association of Georgia’s board. He said the goal is to educate the community on the birth defect while also helping kids like John live a normal and great life.

Grimsley recently became involved with BlazeSports America, a nonprofit that offers various recreation programs to kids and veterans with physical disabilities.

John joined the organization’s wheelchair basketball program, which exposed him to kids with similar medical backgrounds.

“To let John be around people and children in wheelchairs, I think that’s so important,” Grimsley said. “To see the independence something like that gives these kids, it’s just amazing.”

Since his oldest son, Trey, joined the Cub Scouts 10 years ago, Grimsley has dived into the world of Scouts.

He served as Scoutmaster of Troop 16 and now acts as Scoutmaster for Troop 3.

“I think what has meant the most to me and Scouts who may not have a lot of dad involvement, is that we kind of act as their surrogate dad,” Grimsley said. “We’re trying to raise not only Scouts to be Eagles, but we’re trying to make better people. I think we’ve accomplished that.”

On the night of an Eagle Scout ceremony, before the young men receive their awards, Grimsley said they present pins to their mothers and fathers.

More than a year ago, a new Eagle Scout honored Grimsley with his pin.

“I’m not even his dad, and that means a lot,” Grimsley said.

Expanding his leadership into schools, Grimsley has worked as the statistician for North Hall Middle School’s basketball team and served with the Watch D.O.G.S. program, which increases the presence of male role models in schools.

Grimsley said the program started this year at Mount Vernon Elementary School, where his son John attends.

Volunteer dads are put to work at the school for the entire day, assisting with the carpool line, monitoring halls, sitting in classrooms, serving lunch and performing other tasks.

“I couldn’t have done any of this without my wife,” Grimsley said. “She’s the rock of the Grimsley family. We work well together.”

For those looking to become involved with the youth in the community, he encourages people to “just go for it.”

“There are so many organizations in Gainesville where you can help with youth, adults or anybody,” he said. “We’re such a philanthropic community. It’s infectious. Once you start, you just want to keep helping.”

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