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Up to his eyeballs in service and loving it

Wayne Burns has become one of Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center's most prolific volunteers

Posted: July 6, 2008 11:33 p.m.
Updated: September 7, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Wayne Burns helps Del Rivera at a rummage sale at the SCV Senior Center on July 1.

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After 28 years as a letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service, 66-year-old retiree Wayne Burns stumbled upon his true calling, an unexpected second career in volunteerism.

Wayne Floyd Burns frequented the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center early in his 2002 retirement for a bit of lunchtime socializing, nothing more. His visits had become something of a hobby while his wife Becky continued working as a postal clerk. He had no intention of delving any further into the center's activities, but just a few months later he "got involved with home delivered meals" to give a bit of help to the "drastically under-funded" program. A bad ankle eventually prevented him from continuing that specific venture, but it did not matter, Burns was hooked on helping others.

Robin Clough, director of recreation and volunteers at the center, mused about Wayne's initial reluctance. "One of the seniors recently reminded Wayne that upon his retirement he claimed he was not going to get involved, and that now he is up to his eyeballs and loving it!" she said. She spoke enthusiastically of his successes and accomplishments.

"Wayne is such an integral part of the Senior Center, and without a doubt one of our greatest assets," she said.

The Senior Center is home to myriad activities and projects for vivacious seniors. Burns actively participates in many of these endeavors and therefore has a unique understanding of growing program needs. "He constantly takes the initiative to create projects benefiting seniors and others," Clough noted.

And for his part, Burns happily confesses his own personal development efforts through the center (especially in the technological realm). "When I retired, I didn't know anything about computers and could not have cared less," he said. But after a few Senior Center classes with teacher Gayle Eisenberg, "I'll click anywhere and see where it takes me...I'm not afraid!" he boasted. In addition to his newfound computer savvy, Burns enjoys taking photographs and creating holiday cards and elaborate graphic pieces for the Senior Center to display. His only problem, he quipped, "Anyone want to sponsor me for ink?"

Burns' fun-loving sense of humor, coupled with his genuine dedication to the betterment of the Senior Center's programs and its members, have become an instant recipe for success.

"Wayne is involved with the Veterans History Project, Senior Cinema, the volunteer bulletin board, atrium beautification, photography, Advisory Council, raffles, rummage sales, and represented the Senior Center in earning significant donations for the American Cancer Society," Clough said. Even with an abundance of projects under his belt, Burns always has an appetite for more. "Amazingly, this is just touching the surface of his volunteerism," she said.

When asked where he finds such remarkable energy and dedication, Burns laughs, "I'm trying! What I'd like to do is get a ping pong paddle and on one side have "no" and on the other have "yes"...when she [Clough] asks me to do something!" But Robin Clough happily calls his bluff. "I have never seen the "no" side of that paddle," she joked. There is little reason for Burns to refuse the fulfillment he gets from helping others, especially when some of those endeavors are so close to his big heart.

One such endeavor came about just this February as Burns was appointed the position of Senior Center Coordinator for The Veteran's History Project by Brad Berens, executive director of the SCV Committee on Aging. Burns expressly summarizes the effort. "The Veteran's History Project is a joint effort between the Library of Congress and College of the Canyons to interview veterans and those who were civilians...working in the war efforts," he said. Being a Vietnam era veteran himself, Burns felt he could relate his own experiences to those of other military vets "to tell their stories of their service time." This is not the only effort Burns has personally been in the thick of.

Earlier this year Shirley Wurst asked Burns to help with the American Cancer Society's Daffodil Days. He was intrigued. "I'm a prostate cancer survivor...I had the surgery in April 2001," he revealed.

Burns further explains that he was initially diagnosed in February 2001 and fought through radiation until December 2004. Today he gladly declares that he is "pretty stable" and finds sincere fulfillment in helping others in this all too familiar plight. "Through Daffodil Days I helped raise $1,000 in donations, $375 of which was raised by Mrs. Wurst," he said.

Even in his Cancer Society efforts, Burns did not forget his second home. He was notably involved in a Daffodil Days raffle, raising $60 for the Senior Center. For this and so much more, Clough never ceases to marvel at his efforts. "Wayne has inexhaustible enthusiasm, humor, and compassion," she said. When asked about his own outlook on volunteerism and his future in the enterprise, Wayne was sincere. "I know I won't be able to keep up this pace forever and I'll slow down someday and someone else will have to carry the torch," he reluctantly stated. But Wayne sees that "someday" as being in the very distant future. "While I can do it, I want to do it," he asserted.

Robin Clough appreciates both his honesty and his efforts. "[Wayne] has truly become an indispensable and central part of our Senior Center family," she said.

The family that Robin Clough speaks of is an enriching one, as it is brought together by the great hopes and efforts of so many. Wayne Burns understands the importance of that dynamic and is proud to be a part of it. He also recognizes the special role his immediate family plays in it, particularly that of his wife Becky, who offers Wayne her unwavering support. "I'd like to give special thanks to [her]," he said proudly of the woman who enables his steadfast confidence and conviction.

But the glowing words he speaks of his wife are not the only ones he would like to extend. "The people I would really like to credit are Gayle Eisenberg...who saw my creative side and helped me along; Mary Gallant; Shirley Wurst and, of course, Robin - who always has a beautiful smile," he said.

Burns paraphrases his favorite quote from Mark Twain: "In time you'll regret more of the things you didn't do than the things you did do." And so, to his fellow seniors Burns said simply, "Stay active, keep moving...just become involved!" And so he leads by example.

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