Leisure Features

VP Families

The Veiled Prophet Organization has many members, each with his own unique story and background. But they all share a common bond: a commitment to serving St. Louis and making the region a better place to live. Those involved understand that working together for the common good can have a tremendous impact on a community, and this belief is adopted by the members’ entire families. One shining example is Tom Donnelly, his wife Julie and their two daughters. The Donnellys’ path to the VP is a little unconventional. Julie actually started behind the scenes as coordinator for the annual Veiled Prophet Ball. “I’d been working with Fair St. Louis since 2001, and in 2009, we moved into the same building as the VP,” she says. “A few years later, the executive director asked me if I’d be interested in planning the ball.” Not long after, Tom decided to become a member. “The mission to make St. Louis a better place really drew me in,” he notes. “Plus, I knew some of the members, and they’re all good people.”

The family’s involvement with the VP has only grown over the years. Julie has coordinated the ball for the past seven years, and Tom soon will take over as chair of the Community Service Initiative (CSI) committee. Currently, the organization partners with 25 local nonprofits for volunteer opportunities, and in 2019, more than 1,000 people associated with the VP donated their time at 38 different charitable projects. While the CSI program initially was designed for maids walking in the ball and their fathers, Tom says it has expanded to include entire families. “Every year, we have several exciting projects,” he notes. “We may be a smaller foundation, but we have a lot of volunteers who can get things done.”

Tom and Julie have two daughters. Claire, who was a Special Maid this year, is a college sophomore studying business, and Abigail is a freshman at Marquette High School. For both parents, it’s important that their daughters learn the importance of giving back. “We both grew up in strong families that valued volunteerism, and we want to instill the same passion in our girls,” Julie says. Tom adds, “The great thing about the VP is that it allows us to work together on things that make a difference in the community. We’ve never walked away from a project without one of us commenting on how fun it was or how happy it made us feel.”

As a family, the Donnellys have participated in several projects with the VP, including helping at several local schools and working with Brightside St. Louis, a nonprofit dedicated to the improvement of downtown. Every May, the entire family helps with a city hall beautification project, tending the landscaping and cleaning up litter. “Even something that seems small, like planting flowers or painting a school, can have a positive impact on someone’s life,” Julie says. “Every project brings us one step closer to making St. Louis the best it can be.”

For Claire, volunteering always has been part of her life. She spent her summers helping with Fair St. Louis and started doing CSI projects when she was in eighth grade. One of her favorite initiatives was helping build a playground for The Biome School. For her, each project is a way to learn more about the city she calls home. “I’ve met so many great people and have learned a lot about St. Louis’ history,” she says. “It’s fun, but more importantly, my overall connection to the city is stronger now, and my love for the community has grown. It’s awesome to see the difference my family has made.”

This year’s ball was the fulfillment of something Claire had been looking forward to since middle school. “Before my dad even joined the VP, I went to the ball with my mom as a junior maid,” she recalls. “I’d always been someone in the crowd, but it was awesome getting to be the person walking.” Having coordinated the annual event for several years, it was a unique experience for Julie as well. Even though she still helped with organizing the ball, that night, she officially was off the clock. “I got to just be a mom, which is important,” she says. “When I’m working, I feel like I have 58 families to be excited for, but it was nice to be able to focus on my own.”

The impact of the Donnellys’ dedication is felt throughout the VP. “Julie and her family have been invaluable to the success of the ball and many other projects,” says Mark Lewis, this year’s ball chair. “Their dedication to the St. Louis region is exceptional, and I can’t thank them enough for everything they do for our organization and the community.”

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