Hometown Hero Spotlight on Kate Parker-Burgard and Don Burgard

For the past two months, Volunteer Square has been recognizing exceptional individuals that donate their time and energy to nonprofit organizations across Connecticut. These volunteers make a true impact in the lives of others. We are thrilled to share their stories and give these volunteers the spotlight they deserve. If you would like to nominate a volunteer, please fill out this Nomination Form.

This week, we are excited to recognize two volunteers that did a very special project this July. Kate Parker Burgard and Don Burgard. Kate is the Director of the Center for Leadership at St. Luke's School in New Canaan and Don is the Copy/Production editor for Fine Gardening Magazine. I've had the pleasure of working with Kate over the last four years as we promoted volunteer opportunities, our annual High School Essay Contest, and our HS Internship programto St. Luke's School. We've been lucky to have students participate in all three initiatives thanks to Kate's guidance and encouragement.

In late June, Kate reached out with some questions about volunteer opportunities, this time she was looking for something she and her husband could do together. They had decided that instead of going away this July during the vacation week that they would turn it into a week of service. They wanted to dedicate the week to giving back to communities and organizations that would need them most during these unprecedented times. Happy to share some opportunities that we were promoting, I sent Kate a few to add to the already growing list she had and told her that we would love to do a Hometown Hero spotlight about their week of service.

We are proud to share an interview with Kate and Don that tells the story of their service week this July, as well as other projects they are passionate about, and how they encourage others to get involved in their communities. We are thrilled to be honoring Kate and Don this week and we hope their commitment to service this July during their vacation will inspire you and your loved ones to give some of your time to volunteer in your community and help local non-profits in need. Thank you Kate and Don for all you do and for encouraging others to volunteer with you!

Hometown Heroes - Kate Parker-Burgard and Don Burgard

What made you decide to spend your vacation volunteering?

We became frustrated after months of spending so much time in our house when we knew that people around us were struggling. Yet so many non-profit organizations were closed to volunteers because of COVID restrictions, but after some research we were able to put together a whole week of volunteer projects. Our desire to work together as a team in service to our neighbors was stronger than our desire to go away for a week of fun.

Where did you volunteer during your vacation week?

We volunteered at Real Food Share (Newtown), Person to Person (Darien), Open Door Shelter food pantry and clothing closet (Norwalk), and Filling in the Blanks (Norwalk).

What were some of the highlights of your week?

We reached out to many organizations to plan this week, and those that responded identified opportunities to work on issues related to food insecurity, which is an issue we both really care about. We loved meeting the people who work and volunteer at each of these organizations. The energy, sincerity, and grace of everyone we met was really moving. We were so impressed at how well they have adapted to the restrictions of COVID so that their organizations can function optimally. Each of the nonprofits was very organized when we arrived each day, which allowed us to be productive at each location.

What kind of volunteer work have you done in the past?

We are both active in our church, Monroe Congregational Church, where we volunteer in a number of ways—serving on boards, singing in the choir, helping at the thrift shop and tag sale, etc. In addition, Kate's work includes organizing service opportunities for students, so she frequently gets to volunteer at nonprofits with them. Don has recently started volunteering with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven.

Kate, how do you encourage your students to volunteer?

We have volunteer opportunities throughout the school that are either connected to classroom activities, organized by parents, or organized by the school. Additionally, our Upper School students are required to do 20 hours of community service each year. It's very common for students to start volunteering and keep going way beyond their required hours. We have a service resource page on the school's website that helps students identify volunteer opportunities.

Do you volunteer together all the time or do you have separate volunteer projects you like to participate in?

It's a mix. Many of the things we do in church we do together, but Kate's work-related volunteering is done separately, as is Don's IRIS work.

How do you encourage others to get involved?

Generally, we find that people are eager to help when asked. For example, this week Filling in the Blanksgave us the opportunity to pull together a team of 8 to work in their warehouse packing food, so we asked some friends to join us. Those who were able to make it were glad to respond.

Is there anything else you would like to share in your spotlight?

While we're honored to be featured by Volunteer Square, this week has highlighted for us how many people can be celebrated as hometown heroes. We were so inspired by the number of people we encountered who devote their lives, either paid or unpaid, to helping others. This week provided an emotionally uplifting and spiritually rich experience that is very different from what we get from a typical vacation.