Michael gives to Kennedy Krieger to support its patients and students—his heroes.

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A man wearing a baseball hat that says “Maryland SPCA” on it sits beside a young boy who is also wearing a baseball cap. The boy is sitting in a wheelchair. The man’s left arm rests on the back of the wheelchair, behind the wheelchair’s headrest. Both the man and the boy are smiling. They are sitting indoors, in front of a bookshelf.

Michael Burkom with his nephew

When Michael Burkom retired from his career with the federal government, he decided that for the rest of his life, he just wanted to help others.

“It’s a giving-back thing,” he says.

Now Michael, 73, spends his days volunteering with Meals on Wheels and the Maryland SPCA. He was a driver for Jewish Community Services, taking people without transportation to medical and other appointments, before the organization suspended the program at the start of the pandemic. And he’s exploring opportunities to volunteer at Kennedy Krieger Institute.

There’s so much joy in giving.” – Michael Burkom

He already volunteers for the Institute’s annual ROAR for Kids fundraiser, and has been a recurring donor for many years. He began giving to the Institute when his 9-year-old grandnephew started receiving services there, but Michael finds inspiration to give in all of its patients and students.

“When you’re a little kid, your heroes might be sports figures. But now, when I think what these little kids are going through…they’re the real heroes,” Michael says.

“While we may mope because our neighbors can afford a better car than us, or because others are more talented than we are, the kids at Kennedy Krieger are thankful for a new piece of apparatus that allows them to move independently or communicate with others,” he says. “While we complain because we feel underappreciated at work, the kids at Kennedy Krieger are more than thankful because they’ve learned how to become functioning members of society, not even thinking of the great challenges they’ve faced to reach that point.”

A Baltimore native, Michael loves spending time with his family. His grandnephew has cerebral palsy and uses an eye gaze-tracking device to communicate. “He’s gotten really, amazingly good at using it,” Michael says. “He’s really something.”

Michael also loves his retirement avocation of helping others. “The reward is that you’re not just doing it for someone else—you’re doing it for yourself,” he says. “There’s so much joy in giving. If someone asked me if I’d rather be spending my time and money on something else, I’d say, ‘No. This is what I want to spend my time and money on.’ It’s almost like I can’t explain why it’s so enjoyable.”