Friday, August 29, 2014

Volunteer offers hugs, male role model

By CLINTON DICK, Herald Staff Writer | 4/7/2014

[Editor’s note: The following is the first of three features this week recognizing outstanding volunteers in the community as part of National Volunteer Week. Richard Burgoon was nominated for the feature by Odree O’Connor at Lincoln Elementary School.]

[Editor’s note: The following is the first of three features this week recognizing outstanding volunteers in the community as part of National Volunteer Week. Richard Burgoon was nominated for the feature by Odree O’Connor at Lincoln Elementary School.]

Like a hound guarding its pups, Richard Burgoon is a watchdog for children at Lincoln Elementary School.

Burgoon, a lifelong Ottawan, has volunteered for the Watch D.O.G.S (Dads Of Great Students) program at the school, 1102 N. Milner Road, Ottawa, since its inception three years ago, he said. The volunteer-based program focuses on fathers and grandfathers interacting with students and providing them with important male figures in their lives among other goals.

“What we do is we try to keep everything safe and help with the security, make sure all the doors are locked, and then we go to different classes and usually sometimes you help some students that need help,” Burgoon said. “A lot of times, I end up grading papers or helping kids with their homework. Just, help the kids having a hard time getting their work done, and that’s fun to do that too.”

Burgoon typically volunteers at the school once or twice a week, but is almost always ready if the school needs any extra help, he said. His grandson, Evan Burgoon, is a third-grader at Lincoln, and his granddaughter, Sophie Burgoon, is a kindergartener there. Burgoon not only gets to spend time with them there, but with many other students.

“I have a lot of little friends here,” he said. “I go to Walmart, or I go out downtown [and I hear], ‘Watch D.O.G.!’ or ‘Grandpa!’ It just brings it out of them, you know? You try to get some of those kids who don’t talk very much and you get them to start talking and mingling where they can react with you. That is my biggest goal is to be someone to talk to. They give me a hug and I give them a hug, and you see that a lot, that some of them don’t get very much at home, so they are the ones that cling.”

Hugs aren’t the only thing Burgoon and the rest of the Watch D.O.G.S. volunteers dole out. Every Friday, the volunteers fill backpacks with food for the BackSnacks program, which serves 50 students at Lincoln. Burgoon has been instrumental in recruiting people, including his wife, Marla, to help with bagging the food, as well as convincing new people to join the program.

“I’ve talked to a lot of grandpas this year, and I got them to get interested to do it,” Burgoon said. “I’m retired, so it is easy for me. I can come whenever I want. ... When [the volunteers] first start up, I usually let everybody sign up first and then I can pick the days I want, that way they get the days they may need. We are trying to get more people involved. When we have a Watch D.O.G. here, the kids are more interactive and outgoing.”

There are about 35 volunteers in Lincoln’s Watch D.O.G.S program right now, Burgoon said.

“It is not as big as the first year, but I think it is hard for a lot of parents to get off and come,” he said. “I try to tell all the guys, ‘If you can’t come in, just come in for lunch. Bring them lunch.’”

Burgoon said he already has applied for a lunch job at the school’s cafeteria for next year so he can spend even more time at Lincoln. On a typical school day, not counting the district’s early-release Wednesdays, Burgoon is at the school from 8 a.m. to release time at 3:30 p.m., he said.

“The best part about Watch D.O.G.S. is you get to see kids that don’t have a father figure at home, and when you walk in and you see them smile and they come over and give you a big ol’ hug ... that is the main reason I like to do it is because I like being with the kids,” Burgoon said. “They call me ‘Grandpa.’ I have a grandson in third grade and his whole class calls me ‘Grandpa.’ I was ‘Grandpa Santa Claus’ for the kindergartners this year.”

When he isn’t volunteering his time at the school, Burgoon also is a member of the Ottawa Recreation Commission and a veteran of the U.S. Navy, helping with the Vietnam Veterans of America group, he said.

“I really enjoyed when I was in the service,” he said. “I learned a lot and it made me grow up. It was quite the learning experience. Then I worked for the railroad for 35 years. When I retired, I didn’t have much to do and then this program came along and I thought, ‘Well I have all this free time, I could do that.’ It worked out really well for me, and it worked out really well for everyone here. Like I said, if they need some help I can come in and help them. I don’t mind doing it. It’s fun.”

Burgoon hopes more people will join the Watch D.O.G.S. program, he said.

“I don’t know if they are ever going to do anything with the mothers, but this is more for getting the males involved,” he said. “I’ve got a few [students at Lincoln who] you can tell that I don’t think there is any male, or father figure at home. Somebody cares about them, that is the most important thing.”

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