The theme of this year’s Spirit of Volunteerism Awards, taking place virtually just like last year, is fitting for the circumstances imposed by the coronavirus pandemic: “Extraordinary Circumstances, Everyday Heroes.”
The annual event, put on by OneOC, is marking its 45th year on Thursday, April 29, as a salute to individuals and organizations who do volunteer work in Orange County. For the most part, that charitable outreach over the past year had to be done in ways that worked around the health and safety restrictions necessary to avoid COVID-19. That’s the reference to “extraordinary circumstances.”
Honorees – more than 18,400 volunteers and 102 organizations – are being recognized in five categories.
One of the honorees is William Burroughs – not the Beat Generation writer but the big-hearted field marketing representative who has worked for In-N-Out Burger since he was 17 and volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Empire and Orange County.
Burroughs, 43, who goes by Will for short, has been the mentor to a youth in Tustin, 12-year-old Andrew, for nearly three years. Burroughs, who is Black, grew up in San Diego. He now makes his home in Huntington Beach. Burroughs did not have much of a relationship with his father and was raised alone by his mother. His mother was his role model – an accountant who became a franchise consultee for Fatburger (he laughs about this hamburger legacy) and someone who was always making donations to shelters.
Andrew, whose family is from Mexico, is also being raised by his mother. Andrew’s father died six months before he and Burroughs were matched by Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2018. Andrew’s last name is not being disclosed because of Big Brothers Big Sisters policy. He has siblings who are also in the program.
In January, Burroughs was named the Orange County “Big of the Year” by Big Brothers Big Sisters for his commitment to Andrew and the extra steps he has taken on the boy’s behalf.
It’s not uncommon for the mentors to lend a hand with schoolwork, but Burroughs takes meetings with teachers and worked as a team with Andrew’s mom in developing a learning plan for Andrew, who had his struggles in school but has seen his grades improve since meeting Burroughs. He spent a lot of time working with Andrew on his remote learning this past year.
When he began volunteering with the organization, Burroughs was given a choice between two boys to mentor. He picked Andrew, 10 at the time, because of the boy’s loss: “I knew the feeling of not having a father around, the emotional attachments that go with that.”
Andrew’s mother, Maria, reached out to Big Brothers Big Sisters to get her children involved in the program after their father’s death. Maria only speaks Spanish, so Burroughs is learning a new language as part of his relationship with Andrew to communicate better with her. She’s a hard worker, Burroughs said, holding down two jobs in the food industry, after losing factory work because of the COVID-19 shutdown.
Sometimes Burroughs will take all of the siblings to the beach or the movies; Or he’ll take Andrew to pick out gifts for their birthdays. On their outings as mentor and mentee, usually every other weekend until the coronavirus disrupted their routine, Andrew likes to visit arcades, the mall, Starbucks. And, of course, he loves In-N-Out.
Until they could begin seeing each other in person again in January, Burroughs and Andrew did like most other people have done during the pandemic – they stayed in touch virtually, conversing on FaceTime and texting. Since they couldn’t go out to eat, Burroughs would pick up something and, keeping social distance, drop it off for Andrew and often the rest of the family.
When he was traveling on behalf of In-N-Out, Burroughs would send Andrew photos of the places he was visiting and what he was doing. He’d ask Andrew if he had ever been to those places and get him to look them up. Big Brothers Big Sisters held lots of activities via Zoom, such as decorating cookies and calisthenics, that Burroughs and Andrew participated in.
Andrew didn’t have WiFi or a laptop when remote learning began at his school. Burroughs nudged him to use a neighbor’s WiFi until his school got his technology needs squared away. Burroughs keeps track of Andrew’s grades and asks why he might be doing poorly in a certain class. He’ll tell Andrew he’s going to talk to his mom or get a progress report.
“He knows I will see the report card eventually,” Burroughs said. “It may be in Spanish and I’ll have someone translate it for me, but he knows I will see it.”
Burroughs had been moved in his heart to do some type of charitable work but questioned what he might have to offer. A friend and a co-worker were involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Once he passed the vetting and met Andrew and his family, it didn’t take long for Burroughs to realize what anyone open to volunteering can bring to someone else’s life.
“The reality is, we all have something to offer. We all have a story. We all have something to pass along.”
Burroughs also has learned from Andrew.
“I have taught Will more about me and my family, and my culture and background,” Andrew said during an interview a few months ago with Big Brothers Big Sisters when Burroughs was nominated for Big of the Year. Andrew is the one who’s been teaching Burroughs words in Spanish.
“I think I have also helped Will have some fun by doing things I like to do … I have a lot of fun with him, and I like when he talks to me and we have a good conversation. I see him as part of my family.”
Here are three ways to be a virtual part of the Spirit of Volunteerism Awards:
- Via Zoom by registering online
- Facebook Live on the OneOC page at facebook.com/OneOC.org.
- YouTube on the OneOC channel.
Source: Orange County Register