Meet Bell Island's boy wonder

Barb Sweet
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Donovan Taplin is staying close for now to the community he loves

Donovan Taplin of Bell Island was offered two massive scholarships this year, but chose the one that will keep him closest to Bell Island. - Photo by Bard Sweet/The Telegram

When Donovan Taplin was five or six years old, his grandmother told him he'd make it big one day.

"I don't know what she would say at all because she had 14 kids, but I was like the 15th," Donovan said in the kitchen of his family's home in Wabana, his eyes welling with tears.

His mom, Tammie Taplin, hands him a tissue.

Her mother, Elsie Sheppard, died in 2009. She didn't get to see her beloved grandson go to the Arctic or to Antarctica, or be offered two prestigious scholarships this year worth a total of $150,000.

In June, 17-year-old Donovan will be among a delegation to attend the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"She always said she wanted to see me do good things. So I'd love her to see it," he said.

"When she passed away, I found out about the Arctic scholarship probably 20 days later. It was the first really big thing I did. That was hard because from then on, I knew I was going to be involved in a lot of really big things and she wasn't going to see any of them."

Donovan, who will graduate this year from St. Michael's Regional High, was offered the 2012 National Loran Award scholarship, valued at up to $80,000.

He turned that down for the TD Scholarship for Community Leadership, worth $70,000 plus guaranteed summer employment at TD for up to four years.

The Loran Award encouraged him to explore by choosing a university outside the province.

It was tough turning it down, but Donovan wants to stay closer to Bell Island and is set on taking communications at Memorial University to further his interest in a national broadcast career.

"I still have a lot of work to do on Bell Island. I know eventually I will have to pass that torch along, but not yet," he said.

Donovan's parents, Scott and Tammie, who were high school sweethearts, knew he was gifted.

"I always knew Donovan had great potential," Tammie said.

"I always told him to reach for the stars or whatever, but I never, ever dreamed of this much."

"Everybody (is) overjoyed, which is great," said Scott.

"But we always thought he was going to do amazing things anyway."

As a toddler, Donovan was fascinated with books.

When he asked his grandmother to read him a story, she'd tell him to go get a book. He would return with a stack and she'd read them all.

He was born on Bell Island but the Taplins eventually moved to Cambridge, Ont., a mecca for Newfoundlanders looking for work.

When Donovan was 10, the decision was made to move back home - his mother is Bell Island's tourism co-ordinator and his dad works for the school board.

Donovan didn't want to leave Cambridge and for awhile kept wanting to catch the next boat and head back to Ontario.

But he joined hockey for a few years, found a love of public speaking and eventually got involved in other activities and founded an environmental group called the Green Island Society, which has organized tree plantings and sponsors an essay contest.

"The community spirit really got me pretty quickly," Donovan said.

"There are 3,000 people on Bell Island, 3,000 family members, really. ... My favourite part of Bell Island is knowing you can make a difference. In Cambridge, I don't know if I could make a difference, but here I knew I could."

In Grade 5, Donovan won an essay contest, and in Grade 6, he was called up to the high school to say a few lines in a drama production because the students were short a player.

When he got to St. Michael's he joined all the extracurricular activities.

Team Teen was founded by Donovan and Grade 9 classmates in response to the reputation Bell Island youth were getting because of break-ins and other crimes.

"Every youth was getting dirty looks in the community. That group was founded to say some of us are doing good things," Donovan said.

After winning bronze for a Grade 10 science fair project at Marine Institute, Donovan applied for a scholarship to participate in an expedition to the Canadian Arctic as part of the Students on Ice program.

He was offered $4,000 and was told if he could fundraise $6,000 in little more than a month he was welcome aboard.

There were personal donations from people in the community, chocolate bar and hotdog sales and benefit dances.

Since then, there has been another $13,000 raised to send him on an Antarctic expedition, plus a few thousand for the Rio de Janeiro trip.

When dances were held in nightclubs, Donovan stayed outside selling hotdogs until the wee hours.

Back when Tammie Taplin worked at the local grocery store, practically every second customer had a donation for Donovan out of pride for the young Bell Islander.

Donovan asked Bell Island Coun. Scott Clarke how to repay all the support.

"He told me to pay it forward," Donovan said, adding he got more involved in more community activities like Tidy Towns and Bell Island tourism. His participation in Tidy Towns led to the founding of the Green Island Society.

Anything he's asked to do for the community, he's willing to do.

"Everything I do for the rest of my life, all my success so far, is because of Bell Island," said Donovan, adding that until he got involved in wider community efforts, he did not realize the number of people volunteering to make Bell Island a better place.

In Grade 11, he heard about Bell Island Radio, a weeklong community radio broadcast headed up by Kelly Russell.

Because of his interest in broadcast journalism, Donovan asked if he could pour coffee or set up chairs. Instead, he was offered hosting and producing gigs. Donovan even got to interview national CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge.

Through a community radio network, he also got to interview Seamus O'Regan from CTV.

Donovan said the Newfoundlander assured him it was OK to wear the province on his sleeve, and not to worry about his slight accent.

As his four-year-old brother Hunter zips in and out of the kitchen, Donovan acknowledges he has little time to spend with him given all his activities.

"When he's home, he's not home," Tammie said, explaining he'll be in his room catching up on messages and work associated with the Earth Summit.

While Radio Bell Island was on air this year, Donovan would often go to bed at 12 or 1 a.m. after catching up on school assignments and set his alarm for 5 a.m. so he could get a couple of hours of work in before school.

He got sick from being run down, but said he doesn't regret it.

One night last year a friend was going to a party and asked Donovan what he was doing. He said he was attending a meeting for Accordion Idol, where he found himself among community organizers 30-40 years his senior. He says they treated him as an equal.

He just started texting last fall, which is quite a late start compared to most of his peers.

"The other day I was reading the zero draft for Earth Summit. I know all my other friends are probably home playing Xbox at the same time," he said.

"When I am an adult, am I going to look back and say I really didn't have a childhood. Sometimes I think maybe I should just quit, take a break. I've been involved in so much since I was a kid, I'll never do that."

He does have a date for his prom in May - Aanchal Ralhan, a Loran scholar in St. John's he met in the Arctic.

And he describes himself as a class clown.

Donovan said he's never been bullied, but there has been good-natured chiding.

Asked if others see him as a geek, or ever called him Sheldon Cooper - the super-intelligent character on TV's "The Big Bang Theory" - Donovan laughs. With his dark, closed-cropped hair and slight build, he could be a teen version of the character.

"Oh God, I get that all the time," he said.

"Some of them literally call him Sheldon," said his mother.

When it was announced he had won the Loran scholarship, students pounded their desks on the floor and hugged him.

"Some people think that's all I do - focus on the extracurriculars and school and whatnot ... the scholar who travelled to the Arctic. That overachiever, " he said.

"They are kind of right. But beneath that normal kid are normal interests. I still like watching hockey on Saturday night."

Organizations: Earth Summit, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Green Island Society Marine Institute Canadian Arctic Bell Island Radio CBC

Geographic location: Bell Island, Arctic, Rio de Janeiro Wabana Cambridge Antarctica Brazil Ontario St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Joan Combdon
    May 09, 2012 - 11:56

    Congratulations Donovan, you really are quite the young man. Well done and no doubt you've a bright and interesting future ahead.

  • Betty Cantwell
    April 30, 2012 - 16:04

    Your Bell Islands lttle trouper! Good job young man!

  • Louise Horst
    April 22, 2012 - 12:23

    My mother called me this morning with news of Donovan's story. Her voice was thick with emotion as she told me about Donovan. Donovan is her great-great nephew - the son of her late brother Jim Taylor. My late Uncle passed away 58 years ago and left behind a young family. I know that Donovan's Great-Grandfather Jim Taylor, would be so proud. Your family near and far are so proud of you, Donovan.

  • Marlene
    April 18, 2012 - 19:37

    Hi Donovan.... Congratulations on all your success.. but take time to enjoy the " teen" things. ie party ( not too hard) be rowdy with your friends ( not too rowdy,) and be in love ( but not too in love,. that you give up your dreams.. Actualy forget the girls) Enjoy life. From one Bell Islander to another 8 - )

  • Marg
    April 16, 2012 - 09:37

    Donovan, again so proud of a fellow Bell Islander, particularly the youth of the Island. You are already off to a great start; I am also thinking about those others who will be inspired and guided by the forces that motive you. This, in turn, will give us more "Donovans" which is what our Island, in particular, and our society, in general, need and deserve.

  • Mary-Ellen
    April 16, 2012 - 09:04

    That's amazing news Donovan! I was looking at photos of the Antarctic expedition and was wondering what you had been up to. Congratulations!

  • stephanie mckennon
    April 16, 2012 - 07:24

    Amazing job donovan! You`re such a big inspiration to a lot of young people, espically me, i have paid my own way through school for 3 years and have worked very hard at it. so its so nice to see someone who works even harder at what they want, and be rewared for it. You`rè going to go to very big places in your life and you deserve every bit of it. And tammie you must be very proud of your boy as you should, you have been an amazing support for donovan all the way both you and scott and what a great job you have both done.. congradulations to you as well, it seems that donovan maybe a little superhero to everyone. espically hunter.....xo

  • Joe Somerton
    April 15, 2012 - 22:06

    I have known Donovan all of his life and never ever seen anything but great potential to become whatever he wanted to be. I am so proud of him and what he have accomplished and there is plenty more to come from this young man. We have Donovan working with us at the Boys & Girls Club and he have become such a positive role model for our members. Congratulations Donovan we are all so very proud of you...Keep up the great work....

  • Mia
    April 15, 2012 - 17:24

    What a refreshing story...... WTG Donovan!!!! Great acheivements and you have only just begun.... Good luck in all your future endeavours... God Bless!!!

  • will
    April 15, 2012 - 14:15

    Well done young man. You can still be a kid and still enjoy you present and future successes.

    • Tammie Taplin
      April 15, 2012 - 16:00

      I have to send a huge thank you for all the positive comments on Donovan's article. He is an amazing young man. He is now and always has been wise beyond his years. My mom would be sooooooooo proud of him. His dad and I seen great success for Donovan at a very young age. He is an awesome role model for youth everywhere, but especially for his four year old brother, Hunter. Hunter thinks Donovan's a superstar because he has seen him on TV and in the papers so often, and he even went to the North Pole where Santa lives (lol). Donovan we love you and support in whatever you do, big or small. I'm so proud to say that I am your mom. XOXOXOXOXO

    • keith burke
      April 16, 2012 - 08:54

      great story, can't wait to hear more about him and hopefully more young people on bell island

  • Chrissy McCabe
    April 15, 2012 - 12:29

    Donny, I am so happy and overjoyed for you! Its amazing to hear how much you have done, and are doing for your community. Peter M. is right, "The world needs more Donovans". You obviously reached for the moon, and have landed amongst the stars!! Best of luck in RIO and at university!

  • Ed. Anstey
    April 15, 2012 - 09:26

    all of nfld is proud of you. stick with the good attitude and the good work. congrats.

  • Mark Sheppard
    April 15, 2012 - 08:26

    Very well done. I shal look forward to hearing more of your exploits. There are few more noble acts than to give to others without expectation of personal gain. I grew up and went to school with your parents. They must be very proud of you acomplishments and of the great potential you have. I wish all the best for you.

  • Peter Mansbridge
    April 15, 2012 - 08:14

    I echo many of the comments already on this page. "The world needs more Donovans" is one of my favourites because its so true. A dedicated, focused young man who is such a great example for others. And as for a broadcast future, I've been interviewed by many over the years, but only a few measure up to the promise I witnessed in Donovan. All the best Donovan!

  • David
    April 14, 2012 - 23:09

    Nice job kid....

  • Joseph McGrath
    April 14, 2012 - 20:50

    This is a wonderful story of a lad who has now been given the opportunity to really have a wonderful life and to make a difference in many others by working hard at his studies and using his future education to help others.It is unfair to take a cheap shot at his grandmother for having 14 kids as I feel sure she accepted each as a gift.During my lifetime I have seen 2 or 3 young people like him blossom into leaders in their profession and in society as a whole.They did extremly well and always gave back to the Province.Donovan Taplin ,I think, will also do this.I went to a movie at the Mall tonight (The 3 Stooges is a real laugh)and was suprised at the number of young people walking around with cell phones and those text machines and I was also kind of taken off guard by the raggy clothing they wear but this is their time and I hope they use it wisely.I can see that as I get much older I am losing touch with today"s youth and others somewhat older but I feel sure most of those I saw will be the backbone of the the Province in the years ahead.So goodluck Donovan Taplin and I hope to read more about your progess in the future.This is the type of story that the tely needs to get out more often.

  • Harold
    April 14, 2012 - 20:47

    congrats Donovan and Best of luck all the way

  • Madonna Kelly
    April 14, 2012 - 19:41

    Keep up the great work Donovan!!! You are an inspiration to young people everywhere!!! Cheers from Texas!!!!

  • Kim Byrne
    April 14, 2012 - 18:39

    All i can say is WOW Donovan....congrats to you and your mom and sitting her reading this with tears in my eyes..your grandmother was a very special person...spent many off days at her house with your mom and aunt kelly and eating all her goddies lol..i can see her now in heaven telling everyone about her amasing grandson...wish you all he best in your future keep up the great work...Tammy and Scott way to go on raising such a wonderful young man...was talking Kelly yesterday you could see and hear how proud she is off her nephew

  • Bryn Dhir, USA
    April 14, 2012 - 18:00

    This young man, is a force for good. From the moment anyone meets him, he leaves a lasting impression, leaves you laughing, and leaves you thinking. Comedian aside, there's a lot of deep and intelligent thoughts happening in that mind. There are many of us, all across Canada and the world that are so proud of Donovan and would do what we can to ensure his dreams and goals come true! The world needs more Donovan Taplins - and, yes as per article, NFL needs him just as much!

  • Wanda Drover
    April 14, 2012 - 17:46

    As a former Bell Islander I am very proud of what you have accomplished and what you are sill to accomplish. Keep up the great work young man, your Grandma was right you are on to big things, she was a great woman herself and loved by many. You are a great role model for others around you.

  • Peggy
    April 14, 2012 - 17:31

    Donovan, what an amazing young man you are. God bless you.

  • Alice Nolan
    April 14, 2012 - 17:10

    Beautiful story. You are doing so well for yourself Donovan. We are so proud of you and I imagine you will continue to make Bell Island proud for many years to come. Keep up your great work and never lose that drive that will make the differences you dream of

  • saltheart
    April 14, 2012 - 17:02

    donavin. don't think your grandmother don't know, It was probably the first thing she looked after when she got there. Good for you, keep your head high, shoot for the stars.

  • Mike, Germany
    April 14, 2012 - 15:46

    Donovan, Not only Newfoundlanders are proud of you. I don't think your goal has been reached yet, but you will reach it. Don't get married yet and have 15 Kids like your Grandmother. There are very few Guys your age who think about their future. Those won't find it through drugs or down on Gower Street someplace. Keep up the good work Donovan. Be proud of yourself.

  • Selina Parsons
    April 14, 2012 - 15:16

    What a heartwarming story! Isn't it just wonderful to read something this positive for a change. Sick of all the news, especially about those who waste their time doing less than good in their communities. This young man will go far. He is disciplined, kind and a role model for all of us. Keep up the good work Donovan. You are still making your grandma proud and I am sure she is watching over you.

    • M
      April 14, 2012 - 16:48

      Congratulations on all your success so far Donovan. It's nice to see a story about a teen who takes pride in their education and community. This attitude will you serve you well as you grow older. I am glad you chose to stay close to those who support you as much as you support them, despite the fact that the Loren Scholarship might have brought you to newer places (not that they would compare to the Antarctic and the Arctic!). Not that you need to hear it, as I am sure you don't let things get you down too much, but keep your head high and don't ever let anyone tell you that what you're doing is silly or you're wasting your youth - just think of how much better this world would be if more kids your age actually cared half as much as you! All the best from here on out, you deserve nothing but!