This is the first is an ongoing series of profiles on Ocean Pines’ staff standouts
Ocean Pines Recreation and Parks Program Supervisor Debbie Donahue has had a busy summer, overseeing sold-out summer camps, managing a trio of successful Fourth of July events, and guiding construction of a popular new playground.
Donahue was born in nearby Showell and grew up in the area. She’s now been with Ocean Pines Recreation and Parks for nine years, starting at the front desk and then moving up the ladder to her current supervisory role.
Presently, Donahue oversees activities at the community center and Ocean Pines parks and trails that include a robust calendar of camps, classes and special events. The department deals with dozens of Ocean Pines clubs and organizations throughout the year, and plans everything from seminars and bus trips, to youth and adult sports leagues.
Lately, she’s been kept busy by sold-out summer camps that can include anywhere from 135-140 children each day, five days a week. The camps are based at the community center and participants visit Ocean Pines pools on Tuesdays and go on special field trips every Thursday.
“They have new themes every week, so the kids do some type of special event every Friday to go along with whatever the theme was,” she said. “They also do a lot of crafts and games, and we try to split their time up between indoors and outdoors so that they’re not bored. They do lots of different things throughout the day.”
Donahue credited her staff with largely running the day-to-day camp operations and compared her role to “the principal’s office.”
“If anyone has any issues or questions they come to me, but this year they’ve handled a lot of it because my job has changed a lot,” she said.
Donahue also helped with the development of the new White Horse Park playground that has been used not only by campers, but by scores of children every day. The bright and colorful playground includes a large jungle gym with slides, and several swing sets and merry-go-rounds to accommodate kids large and small.
“It’s wonderful!” she said. “Not only do the camp kids think it’s the greatest thing, but I think so does the neighborhood. I’ve seen a lot of people out there that I’ve not seen in the past at the other playgrounds.
“The zipline is the hot item! Even the adults want to ride the zipline,” she added.
Another of Donahue’s recent successes were the Fourth of July events held at Veterans Memorial Park, which included a morning 5K run, late-afternoon carnival, and evening fireworks. The events were previously held separately and at different locations.
Donahue first envisioned the combined event about four years ago but, “we couldn’t get all the dynamics to line up or it was too late to put it all together,” she said.
Then, earlier this year, she was given the go-ahead to move both events to one location and make the carnival a leadup to the fireworks.
“It turned out that it was very popular, and it did really well,” she said. “We just changed the dynamics from a daytime event to an evening event, so it all went together.”
By Ocean Pines standards, it was a massive endeavor that took more than 100 people to pull off, including Ocean Pines Recreation and Parks, Police and Public Works, as well as workers and volunteers from Donahue’s summer camps. The Ocean Pines Fire Department, Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, Maryland State Police, Maryland State Highway Administration and others also contributed.
“It takes a lot of people. I get a lot of credit for things, but there’s a lot of people behind the scenes that do a lot of things for me,” Donahue said. “I get a lot of help from my rec and parks staff for the planning, and then the day of it takes everybody – every camp counselor that we have and every employee that we have.
“It took all of that to do what we needed to do. Everyone had a purpose, and everyone had a job,” she added.
The result was a carnival that filled the massive Veterans Memorial Park with slides, games, and food and drink vendors that, by the early evening, was packed with Ocean Pines residents and guests. Estimates are roughly 2,000 people in total attended events throughout the day.
“It’s a really good feeling, because when you’re going into something that’s that big for the first time it could’ve been a total disaster – you just don’t know. It could’ve been a flop and then I would have been sitting in a meeting the next day going, ‘I’m really sorry!’” Donahue said with a laugh. “But it’s great to see that it all came together exactly the way we wanted it to.”
Up next, Donahue is helping to plan the Bay Day event, Sunday, Sept. 8 from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at White Horse Park. The event was originally slated for May, but was rescheduled because of rain.
“Bay Day is an event that we’ve partnered with Maryland Coastal Bays to host, and we have a lot of vendors that come out and talk about how you can do things better in your home and in your environment to help with runoff into St. Martin’s River,” she said. “Last year’s event was really, really well received, so we’re expecting the same thing this year.”
Donahue also promised “fun things” during the event, including live music and food and beer trucks, as well as activities for children.
“All of the vendors come with fun things for the kids to do,” she said.
After that, there are plans for a 5K walk/race later in September to benefit adolescent cancer research. Then, Donahue and her department will gear up for Halloween and fall events at White Horse Park, including the all-new Haunted Trail near the White Horse Park Boat Ramp during the two weekends prior to Halloween.
“Again, it’s a little bit of trial and error, but we have a gentleman at public works who is a seasoned veteran at doing this type of thing, so he’s going to help us get it off the ground,” she said. “That’ll be fun and it’s another thing that I wanted to do for a long time.”
Donahue and Recreation and Parks also run the Movies in the Park on Mondays and Concerts in the Park on Thursdays at White Horse Park, as well as Family Fun Nights at the Oasis Pool, throughout the summer.
She’ll oversee the building of the new Craft Club building, likely to break ground later this month, and is serving on several work groups for General Manager John Viola.
“We’re also doing some renovations to the community center and getting pickleball lines redone in the gym at the end of August and first part of September. We just keep moving forward,” Donahue said. “We come up with new and exciting ideas as much as we can.”