Monday, December 30, 2013

A Q&A with Deb Burns, Winner of the Pamela B. Art Humanitarian Award

On December 17, at Storey’s annual holiday party, a new tradition began: the awarding of the Pamela B. Art Humanitarian Award. Named in honor of Storey’s former president, the award, which includes a $500 contribution from the company to a charitable cause or organization, is given annually to a Storey employee who enriches their community by donating time or money, and who is involved charitable work that reflects the company’s core philanthropic interests.

Deborah Burns is this year’s, and the award’s first, recipient. Deb has worked at Storey for twenty years as an editorial assistant, editor, and acquiring editor across many different categories of Storey books. She sits on Storey’s Philanthropy Committee and has been instrumental in Storey’s involvement with The Berkshire Food Project. She tutors inmates in reading and writing, serves on the board of Higher Ground, which is committed to finding safe, affordable housing for residents of the Spruces in Williamstown who were displaced by Tropical Storm Irene, and is a board member and officer of The Livestock Conservancy, whose mission is to preserve rare and endangered breeds of livestock and poultry. 

In my short time at Storey, I have learned that Deb is also the most likely editor to lead the charge in singing “Happy Birthday” and is an exceedingly generous colleague and teacher. Congratulations on a well-deserved honor, Deb! 

Deborah Burns, winner of the first annual Pamela B. Art Humanitarian Award.
Photo by Caroline Burch
Has being active in community service always been a priority for you?

I am very fortunate to have my parents, both in their 90s, in my life. I also have a 29-year-old son in Greenfield and a 24-year-old daughter in Brooklyn. My entire family is involved in community service in a variety of ways, although it was never preached at us; it just struck us each as important.

My most challenging volunteer work — tutoring in the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction  — was inspired long ago by Storey reader-response postcards from inmates in prison. These men and women were reading Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep and similar books that became a lifeline — a pathway for a new, healthy life after their release. That struck me as incredibly meaningful.

When I started tutoring, I quickly discovered that many of my students had terribly limited reading skills, something that obviously contributed to their life troubles. This convinced me that illiteracy is one of our society’s biggest, yet mostly invisible, problems.

Can you tell us about the Philanthropy Committee at Storey?

Pam Art started this committee a few years ago, out of her passionate commitment to making the world better, starting at home. Pam’s generous heart and Peter Workman’s philanthropic vision are most inspiring. Peter believed that if a company is doing well, it should give back to its local community, a concept that is the bedrock of our committee. Early on, we realized we had to focus our philanthropy efforts in order to make them most effective, and we needed to identify values that would guide us. The values we came up with reflect our publishing program and mission: accessible healthy food, literacy, and community.

What is Storey’s role in the community, and the significance of the Pamela B. Art Humanitarian Award, in your view?

Storey is already seen as an important force in North Adams by the mayor, MASS MoCAThe Berkshire Food Project, MCLA, local-food advocates, and others who want to increase the quality of life for all here. It is so positive for this city to have a company of creative “makers,” continuing a long line of inventors and entrepreneurs. Our other key role is as educators — every one of our books is instructional and empowering and can open up new worlds to a reader.

The award is a tangible manifestation of Storey’s commitment to giving back. It shows that we want to be involved in our communities, and a part of the solution. Although we have a national and international presence as a publisher, we are rooted in North Adams and part of this city’s past, present, and future.  I hope we’ll continue to be part of the conversations about improving local access to healthy food and increasing self-reliance as we all face a changing future.

What advice do you have for how to incorporate what nourishes us into busy daily lives?

I always say that I do only the things I love to do or find interesting. People should identify the things they do that give them the most joy, satisfaction, or serenity, and make sure they create islands of time for those. If they can teach those things to others, all the better.

What are you looking forward to in the new year?

My plate is pretty full right now. I’m especially looking forward to singing with The OK Chorale, a local community chorus, which I started almost a year ago, and figuring out what role it will play in our community.

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