(Editor's Note: This article was originally published February 23, 2011.)
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Dawn Berlo is sick. She's coughing and sniffling, and let's just say, she sounds like she needs to be sleeping.
Instead, she's talking about New London Theatre -- Snellville's neighborhood community theatre. It's been her home away from home for the past three years. Talking about a place she loves comes easy, even if speaking does not.
"We bust our butts to make it as great as (it) can be," Berlo said of the theater. "We do it for the people who want to be there."
An avid arts enthusiast, Berlo credits her youngest daughter's burgeoning interests in acting with putting her on New London's stage. Today the mother of two, who used to be a backstage coordinator for a Lilburn ballet company, is chairman of the board.
"I ended up helping back stage and the next time I knew, I was secretary of the board and helping with plays, and running the theatre," said Berlo, 45. "The last three years have been a whirlwind that’s for sure."
A California girl, participating in the arts was something Berlo always loved to do. Her children, now ages 18 and 26, followed her lead in drama at Lilburn's Berkmar High School.
What excites her most about her job is watching the connection that pint-sized actors make when they're on stage. Not only that, but she also marvels when older actors are just as excited about showcasing their talents.
"It's something that's going to stick with them," she said. "With acting and being able to be different parts of yourself, that's something that everyone can do."
But the job is not without its difficulties. Nonprofit leaders everywhere know her struggle. Funds are hard to come by. As the chief, she has to find a way out of no way.
"It's surprising, but we do," she said of operating on a meager budget.
Tax forms for 2008-2009 show that just over $5,000 came in as contributions. Before that, it was roughly $21,000. Revenue dropped in that time from about $100,000 to $91,000. But, the nonprofit barely spent any money those years, either.
When she works with her staff and the actors, Berlo has to remain positive -- positive, but honest. The arts, she said, "are slowly being ripped out of everybody's hands." That makes her love, a strained one.
"The same thing I tell everyone is watch the looks on people's faces," she said. "We try to make it as down to earth and fun as we can. The people who want to come and see us do."
Her motto for leadership boils down to something very simple. If it's no longer fun, she believes, there's no reason to keep doing it. And, until that day she's at New London Theatre to stay.
The dedication that her younger sister makes to her family and her tenacity for getting back into the workforce inspires Berlo to do what she does. It may sound corny, she said, but "I'm in awe (of) her every single day."
Berlo's focus on family is evident in the theatre. There she gets to watch her 18-year-old daughter, Bekah Ragsdale, participate. But, she also gets to work with her husband, John Berlo, who is the marketing director.
Long days on production nights remain worth it. After "picking up and moving here on whim" 17 years ago, Berlo couldn't see herself doing much else.