|Michael Burke , Experience Corps|
When arthritis forced Baltimore cook Michael Burke to end his career of nearly 20 years, he signed on with Experience Corps, a national, nonprofit program that pairs volunteers with elementary school students for tutoring and mentoring.
“Kitchens and restaurants can be chaotic places,” says Burke, now in his mid-50s. “I wanted a change.”
And he hoped to feed a longstanding passion for enriching children’s lives. He had routinely given Sunday morning children’s sermons at his church. He had also built a reputation among neighborhood kids – who respectfully call him “Mr. Mike” – as someone who looks out for them.
Burke believes children need adults to guide them so the youngsters don’t turn mischievous behavior into “terrible other things.” When he sees kids acting up in the neighborhood or at church, he takes them aside to talk about manners and respect. He says he does it to show that “somebody cares and loves them.”
Experience Corps (now AARP Experience Corps) gave Burke the chance to expand his mentoring. He began helping elementary school students with reading skills. He also started volunteering in the Experience Corps office, filing papers. In his spare time, he took courses in typing, English, computer basics and office technology.
Within about three years, the managers at Experience Corps Baltimore City recognized Burke’s commitment and skills and offered him a paying job as a program assistant. Volunteering was “the best training I could have had for a new career,” Burke says.