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Never Quit winner is hard at work fulfilling a childhood mission

Photo Credit: Getty.

Heather Burke had a happy childhood.

Born into a low-income family, she was hardly aware of it growing up. “My mom really strived to give my brother and sister and me a normal, happy childhood,” she says. “We had Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and sports. I was never aware of having less than other kids.”

But she was aware of other kids having less than her. From the time Burke was in elementary school, she knew there were kids who didn’t have enough to eat, kids who didn’t have a place to call home and even kids who didn’t have parents. And it bothered her.

“I think it was back in elementary school that I decided to work in child welfare,” Burke says. “Children are so innocent, the least we can do is give them the best childhood we can. I’ve always believed that kids have a right to be kids.”

Today, Burke helps children find adoptive homes. A social caseworker with Adams County, Colorado, for the past 12 years, she is in many ways fulfilling a mission she set out for herself all those years ago.

And her devotion to the cause has not gone unnoticed.

“Heather is one of the veteran persons on her team, and she is busy, busy, busy,” says Lourdes Nevarez, a colleague in the Adams County Division of Children and Family Services. “She bears a heavy burden of responsibility for these kids. I mean, she is devoted. Relentless. ... She is one awesome, genuine lady.”

When the coronavirus pandemic began, Nevarez recalls, essential workers such as hospital personnel and police received personal protective equipment from the county. But her colleagues, caseworkers tasked with conducting child welfare visits, were left unprotected despite the risk of contagion upon entering people’s homes.

Burke changed that.

“I don’t know how Heather did it, but she got hold of a nonprofit that was making masks for first responders and she convinced them that child protection workers who are out in the field in people’s homes should get them as well,” Nevarez says. “And so, Heather was able to get masks for caseworkers who were out in the field. She communicated with them, met out in the community with them and made sure they had these masks.”

For her service to her community, Burke, a member of AFSCME Local 3972 (Council 18), is a winner of our union’s Never Quit Service Award, which recognizes public service workers who go above and beyond the call of duty to make their communities better.

“I do it for the kids, it’s always been about the kids,” Burke says. “When things get tough, I wonder if I should switch fields. But then I think, ‘Who is going to advocate for these kids? Who is going to watch out for them and make sure they’re OK? Who is going to be a voice for them?’”

Burke says she is lucky to work alongside professionals who are just as devoted as she is to their mission.

“The majority of my co-workers I love because they really care,” she says. “When things don’t go well and we’re feeling defeated, we always have each other’s backs. That tells you how much passion we put into this work.”

Burke also led the effort to organize her co-workers to form a union through AFSCME. Now that they have a voice on the job, they can better advocate for the resources and training they need to best serve the children and families who rely on them.

“It’s best for the community when you have the best workers available and their needs are being met in the office,” she says.

Know a co-worker who goes above and beyond the call of duty to make their community better? Nominate them for AFSCME’s Never Quit Service Award.

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