by Gregg MERLIHAND
Patients of Roswell Park Cancer Institute that spend time in one of Kevin Guest Houses bone marrow apartments, or family members and friends that stay at Kevin Guest House as a loved one receives cancer treatment, celebrate the day they leave for home.
In June there will be another celebration at Kevin Guest House, though this one will be rare and bittersweet. After 10 years as the Houses Executive Director, Jen Ann Burger is stepping aside to enjoy a well-deserved retirement.
Burger, a native Buffalonian and graduate of Kensington High School, followed a winding road to Kevin Guest House.
Her first job in the real world was at the New York Telephone Company, where Jen Ann worked as a long distance operator. It was around this time that she married Curtis Burger, her husband of 41 years, and the newlyweds decided to make Western New York the home for their family.
And family certainly became the centerpiece of Jen Ann and Curtis lives, as they welcomed sons Russell and Jason into their family. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to stay at home and raise our sons, said Burger. Those years with my children will always be cherished.
After the boys were in school, Jen Ann went to work for the Ken-Ton Union Free School District. While at the District, Jen Ann served as the rental manager for the ENCORE Program. This unique initiative saw the District rent unused school facilities to small businesses.
She also became active in her church, and in 1982 was named the Woman of the Year by the Kenmore Presbyterian Church. Through her relationships with members of her congregation, Jen Ann was introduced to the Kevin Guest House, and in 1991 was named Executive Director.
Over the last decade staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to make Kevin Guest House a home away from home. The drive to the Houses current presence in the community, however, was not free of bumps and detours.
When I first came to Kevin Guest House, there was a need to be a jack-of-all-trades, if you will, said Burger. Any given day could start with meeting prospective supporters, continue on to comforting a family staying at the house and end with routine maintenance tasks to keep the house functioning as a true home away from home.
Kevin Guest House is now supported by an ever-growing list of corporate partners, donors and volunteers.
In her position as Executive Director, Jen Ann had the opportunity to become even more active in our community. She has served as a Board Member of Benedict House, an organization that serves people living with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, and currently is a member of Benedict Houses fundraising committee.
In 2001, Jen Ann graduated with honors from the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations, receiving the Instructors Award.
Having a support system of professionals has also been a big help and Jen Ann spearheaded the formation of an informal group of not-for-profit Executive Directors that fosters camaraderie, shares best practices and spurs creative problem solving initiatives. Those that attend these informal gatherings benefit from not only hearing about how others manage their not-for-profits, but from simply knowing there are others out there faced with the same challenges, commented Burger.
Ms. Burger currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Hospital Hospitality Houses, and will continue to represent the National Association as Ambassador of the Board, visiting hospitality houses throughout the United States.
She also plans more time with her family. Russell currently lives in Vail Colorado where he works as an Executive Chef and Jason is a Manager for Enterprise Car Rental. Jason and his wife Nicole have a 2-year-old daughter, Maya Catherine. I just love being a Grandmother, adds Burger.
Although Jen Ann is retiring from Kevin Guest House, the mission of the house has been and will continue to be a passion for her. Despite all of the hard and emotional work, at the end of the day its the people connected to the house that have driven Jen Ann for the past decade.
From a personal perspective, it has been a blessing to get to know the countless patients and family members that have stayed at Kevin Guest House. They are the reason we work tirelessly - a home away from home is so important when facing an illness that makes you travel miles and miles for the appropriate care, said Burger.
I have always been affirmed by the courageous people we served at Kevin Guest House.
We have a grand-old Victorian Home in the center of the Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus. It has a real heart that serves as a constant reminder of Kevin Garvey and will continue to drive the success of Kevin Guest House.
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