Hometown Hero: Volunteer receives honor
Wally Burton spent his life working with electrical testing equipment. With retirement came the realization that it was time to work with people - and to do it for free.
His reward came last month when he was honored with the Governor's Volunteer Award for this region, for years of service coordinating a Mediation Works class at the Juvenile Detention Center and training teachers for the victim-offender class for teens.
Burton works 40 hours a month, "giving his heart and soul 100 percent," says Ginger Rilling, the family mediation and schools director for Mediation Works.
"He's an incredible organizer, thoughtful in the way he's organized the curriculum and dedicated to mastering the skills of mediation and communication, so people feel safe and supported, not judged and criticized."
Typical of mega-volunteers, Burton is self-effacing, but Rilling notes that even though he started out with plenty of doubts about jumping from engineering to "peopling," he learned "mediation talk" in record time and works steadily toward that "precious moment" when teens, after many classes and mediation with victims and parents, "take accountability in a way the victim can see it." Burton is present in much mediation between teens and parents and "it's huge for teen to feel forgiveness and know they can now move on and not do it again."
The point of his volunteer work with teens, says Burton, is "to make some impact on the kids' decision-making. It's so easy for kids to feel isolated, confused about what's right and wrong and then to move into trust and acceptance." Most of the teens at the Juvenile Center are boys and so, notes Burton, it's especially important for them to have role models and mentors who are men.
Far from approaching it as punishment or even stern lecturing, Burton treats the teen victim-offender program as a time "to bring kids together who've committed a crime, so they realize the significance of the crime and learn from their mistakes, have the opportunity to meet the victim, tell the victim all they can remember about the crime, what they think about it, what motivated them to do it, how they feel about having done it - and see the victim as a human being, a person with feelings who was affected by the crime. It's part of the healing process for both victim and offender."
Burton, a resident of Rogue Valley Manor, comes to Mediation Works through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. During his last decade as an engineer in Palo Alto, he volunteered as a grief counselor and hospice worker, a chaplain's assistant and a tutor for young people getting their GED diploma and learning job interview skills.
Said Mary Miller, executive director of Mediation Works, Burton "is one of the most dedicated volunteers we've ever had. He manages a team of 12 to 15 volunteers in the conflict resolution program. It's people like Wally that make nonprofit organizations able to extend their program to this depth for the community."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.