Giving in the wake of loss

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MANCHESTER — How does one turn tragedy into philanthropy? For former Danby residents Stephen and Nancy Burzon, the answer to that question came easily.

In September, the Journal shared the story of the Burzons, who lost their home in the Caribbean nation of St. Martin during Hurricane Irma. While the couple had to evacuate the island in the wake of the storm, the Burzons are ready to return — with over $10,000 of donated funds to distribute to neighbors who were also impacted.

"The whole experience, as horrifying as it was, is uplifting," Stephen said. "We were fortunate we survived, and the coming together of people was really amazing."

With contributions from over 100 donors, the couple was able to raise over to $10,000 on their GoFundMe page in less than a month. Still, when Stephen realized a portion of that money would go to the fundraising platform as a fee, he decided to set the bar a little higher.

"I decided to take the goal up to $11,000," Burzon said. "Getting that final thousand was slow, but we got there."

In October, Burzon briefly returned to St. Martin to begin distributing funds. For his neighbors, the donations came as a welcome surprise.

"I took a ton of cash with me, which really made me nervous, and began distributing the money on my street," he said. "It was really quite a thing to walk around giving money to people who needed it."

Despite the time he put into raising the funds, Burzon made it clear that the money was the result of a collaborative effort.

"I had to make them understand that this wasn't my money, but donations from over 100 people," Burzon said. "By the time I left St. Martin, around the end of October, I had given out between $7,500 and $7,700."

This month, Stephen and Nancy will return again to St. Martin; this time permanently. The couple will also be reunited with their furry companions, who had to remain on the island in the wake of the storm.

"Our neighbors on the French side of the island have continued to take care of our dogs, and soon that part of the family will be back together," said Burzon, who plans to distribute the remaining funds upon his return. "Then, we'll get back to where we were before Hurricane Irma."

According to the couple, that consists of volunteering, gardening, cooking, and exercising on the island they've grown to love. For Stephen, his philanthropic efforts will not end just yet.

"When I was young I used to teach sailing; Nancy and I are both sailors," he said. "There's a yacht club on the Dutch side of the Island, with the Sint Maarten Sailing School, and the hurricane really did a number on their boats and docks."

Burzon will not only volunteer as an instructor with the sailing school, but is hoping to once again raise $10,000 in relief funds. Though he will continue to utilize GoFundMe and social media platforms like Facebook, Burzon has also put the word out to a number of sailing clubs, publications, and organizations.

According to Burzon, the sailing school is an important institution for the children of his community in St. Martin regardless of socioeconomic status.

"Sailing, to put it bluntly, has been a white man's sport for too long," Burzon said. "I love the diversity, and the idea of getting kids into sailboats to teach them how to race the hell out of them."

The close community the couple has found on the island is a beautiful thing, Burzon says, as is the support found from friends across the United States in the midst of tragedy.

"Our experience has been a joyful one," he said. "My daughter said to me, `Dad, what you are doing proves that there are good people in the world.' The way I see it, we raised some money to help people that needed it. It's simple."



For more information, visit https://www.gofundme.com/help-buy-new-boats-for-youth-school?pc=em_db_co2876_v1&rcid.

Reach Cherise Madigan at cmadigan@manchesterjournal.com, or by phone at 802-490-6471.


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