Can you help Craig Burgess reunite with his former students?
Burgess, a teacher whose career spanned four decades at Cherry Hill HIgh School East, wants to reconnect with any of the former pupils who first joined together more than 30 years ago for a special service project.
“Back in 1987, a rep from Meridian Nursing Home, which is now Genesis Home Care on Evesham Road, contacted East, and wanted to talk to us about setting up a program with students meeting seniors and have both sides learn about each other,” Burgess explained during an Aug. 14 conversation with the Sun.
“I attended the meetings because I had relatives in these homes, and knew how important it was to have that contact. I ended up being the faculty advisor.”
Originally started with about 50 kind souls, in just three years, interest in the program doubled, involving more than 100 students.
“At that point, twice a week, we had busloads of students go over to talk and entertain all the residents.” Burgess said. “We had people there who initially didn’t come out of their rooms, who suddenly were eager each week to meet the students when the buses arrived.”
By 1993, Burgess was named the state recipient of the title Volunteer of the Year, based on his advising and the success of the endeavor. The program was so popular that, at one point, he was able to cold call the Phillies and managed to snag the Phanatic, who, on one occasion, accompanied his students to Meridian.
The conscientious Cougars, along with Meridian’s activities director, eventually were able to codify their experience and put together a book called “Intergenerational Sharing and Caring,” a how-to guide for any other districts who wanted something similar.
“The book came out in 1995,” Burgess noted. “The whole idea was that it was a guide for dealing with seniors, as either a student or an advisor, to learn how to set up something like East had: the clearance, the training, the transport; it’s all spelled out.
“We ran that program right up until 1995, when the book was released,” he added. “Then, I retired, and when I retired, the program died out a year or two later because I wasn’t there and I maybe was doing too much, that nobody else could follow.”
At 75, Burgess is now the president of the residents’ association at Premier Cadbury at Cherry Hill, and would love to have his former students contact him and let him know about how they’ve fared in life over the last quarter century.
He mentioned a few by name: Floren Robinson and Jon Yasgur, Liz Mewes, Dipasri Ghosh and Rachel Katz.
“Some of the students who graduated would come back from college or after they graduated and would spend more time with their grandparent,’’ Burgess mused. “They didn’t want to lose touch with them in the meantime, and it showed that bond.
“It got way beyond anything I ever expected, putting this whole thing together from the start.”
Even in retirement, and under the most adverse of circumstances, Burgess is still trying to be involved and get his peers to take an interest in local affairs. Born, raised, and having spent most of his life in Audubon, he’s now taken up residence at Premier Cadbury on Route 38.
“It’s funny. I was the advisor for the whole thing at East, and here I am now, president of the residents’ association. I am in charge of the board for all of the activities, and we’ve had no activities the last five months because of coronavirus,” Burgess lamented.
“But when I was talking to (Cadbury activities director) Meredith Becker, she said she’d like to have an adopt-a-grandparent program here when all of this dies down. With coronavirus, it’s a challenge. We get food and meds delivered to our rooms, so we don’t see each other very much,” he added.
“But doing this, it gives me a sense of purpose.”
If any East alums who were involved in the adopt-a-grandparent program would like to get in contact with Burgess, he requests people do so by snail mail: Craig E. Burgess, 2150 Route 38, Apt 356W, Cherry Hill, NJ 08002-4502.