“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier. Peace begins with a smile.”
These words from Mother Teresa are words to live by for Donna Hutto Edwards.
A native of Meridian, Mississippi, Donna grew up in a home where she was taught the importance of family, faith and helping others. They are core values she holds dear and uses to guide her life as she continually seeks ways to make a difference.
As a wife, mother and teacher, Donna is excited to use her platform as First Lady of Louisiana to advocate for kids, families and educators by raising awareness about important issues and connecting communities with needed resources and support.
It’s a responsibility she takes seriously. Prayer is the constant that gives her hope and keeps her grounded.
After graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration, Donna married her high school sweetheart, John Bel Edwards. His service in the military took them from their small town of Amite, Louisiana to the “Big Island” of Hawaii. There, they started their family, and Donna pursued her career in business. Living on base, she quickly developed close relationships with other military wives and began helping families prepare for the deployment of their loved ones. She understands the sacrifices soldiers and their families make when serving their country. It’s why giving back to those in the military, both active duty and veterans, remains important.
Children have always been at the heart of her volunteer work, whether starting a Mother’s Day Out program or being active in Youth Ministry. Determined to reach more children, little did she know that one day her passion for playing the piano would translate into her passion for helping children learn and grow. She became a certified teacher and taught music education for over eight years in the Amite public school system. She is convinced more than ever that teachers have tremendous power to inspire all students no matter their backgrounds to believe that they can succeed in life.
Though no longer in the classroom, her work continues as first lady. Donna has created the Louisiana First Foundation, which serves as a launching pad for programs that focus on educating the “whole child” through Teach MAM (Music, Art and Movement), advocating against human trafficking and providing greater resources to the state’s foster children and parents.
Actively engaged in the fight to end human trafficking, Donna works with the Metanoia House, which serves as a safe haven for young victims of this modern day slavery. Her dedication to this cause has led her to Rome where she met with Pope Francis to learn more about how the state and faith communities can further collaborate in the fight against this horrible crime.
She has also started Virtual Visits with the First Lady, which enables her to interact with students in every corner of the state, No Kid Hungry Louisiana Campaign and Breakfast Challenge to help end childhood hunger in Louisiana, Bandit’s Book Challenge to encourage students to read more books and Louisiana Fosters, a state-wide campaign linking government, non-profits, businesses and faith based organizations to build a supportive network for the state’s foster children and foster and birth parents. As Donna says, “These are our children and there is something each of us can do to help make their lives better.”
She has also made it her mission to restore and preserve the history and beauty of the Governor’s Mansion- making it a place the unique and resilient people of Louisiana are proud to call their own. Showcasing Louisiana’s one-of-a-kind culture and traditions, the mansion serves as a classroom for visitors from near and far. She started the governor’s mansion website to enable everyone, especially students and teachers, to learn more about the home and keep up with all of the mansion activities.
Serving as first lady is an honor and an incredible experience, but without a doubt, her happiest job is being the mother of her and John Bel’s three children – Samantha and son-in-law Jonathan, Sarah Ellen and John Miller. The family lives in Baton Rouge with their three dogs, Mollie, Bandit and Lady.