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Week 8: Debbie Johnston

Dear Batter Up readers, meet Debbie Johnston—Richmond’s own Secret Millionaire.

This woman is a remarkable inspiration. Growing up the oldest of six children in a modest home in Varina, Virginia, her parents put together the money to send her to nursing school at Johnston-Willis School of Nursing. She graduated and became a RN at Henrico Doctor’s Hospital where she worked her way through the ranks over the next decade. While working at the hospital, Debbie saw so many patients discharged “quicker and sicker” and wondered what kind of care they received once home. Eventually she took a position in marketing and sales at a home health company and later opened her own home health care company, Care Advantage, in 1988.

Care Advantage Inc. has expanded to encompass 20 offices, three divisions, and employs roughly 3,000 health care professionals throughout Virginia. According to Debbie, “I believe that one of the best things about growing a financially successful company is having the ability to give to others. We have given over a million dollars to organizations all over the community.” And that list of organizations is long and expansive—as is her list of entrepreneurial and philanthropic awards and acknowledgements.

Debbie was nominated for Secret Millionaire by her assistant Ben Fitzwater and, being the philanthropist that she is, couldn’t say no once the nomination became a reality. Debbie was placed in Richmond, CA for a week where she was given $32, an old car, and a roach infested rental in the middle of an active gang area where drive-bys were frequent. Despite the adversities, Debbie immediately became involved in several local charities and, within a week’s time, had been emotionally impacted by the people she met. At the end of the week, Debbie wrote checks for tens of thousands of dollars in charitable gifts and scholarship money. Since the show’s filming in 2011, Debbie has returned to Richmond, CA to work with the mayor and various local charities to help turn the city around.

Meeting Debbie was a lot of fun. She was nominated by Lite 98′s Kat Simons who, if you recall, was battered herself just a couple of weeks ago. Debbie thought she was there to be interviewed on air, but what she didn’t know was that she was actually going to be battered on air! She came in the booth and, after some introductions and discussions about the show that had just aired the night before, Kat hit the mic and introduced Debbie to the listeners. Within minutes I was behind the mic explaining what Batter Up was and what I was doing there. Par for the course, Debbie seemed confused and surprised. As I’ve mentioned before, that seems to be the standard reaction. Before I knew it Kat had a song playing and we were wrapping up. Debbie was off to a meeting for one of her cancer charities—and had plenty of cake to share.

This week’s cake was a lemon lavender cake from the Fudge Riple blog (recipe found here) and I’m happy to report that there were no major catastrophes this time around. I’ve never made anything with lavender before and, when I found this recipe, I wasn’t entirely sure where you even bought lavender. Coincidentally, just a few days after finding the recipe, my mom and I were at the infamous Greek Festival in Richmond and White Oak Lavender Farm just happened to be in the marketplace. I love it when I get to use local ingredients.