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A true passion for giving

JESSICA BURHANS will serve as the 2011-12 president for the United Way of Becker County. The Detroit Lakes native has been employed as vice president of retail banking at Midwest Bank in Detroit Lakes for the past couple of years. She and her husband Brian make their home in Detroit Lakes with their three chldren.

Detroit Lakes native Jessica Burhans has a genuine passion for helping those in need -- which is part of what led her to become involved with the United Way even before graduating from high school.

"My mother was very involved in the door-to-door (residential) campaign," Burhans said -- and she talked her into becoming involved as well.

She went on to become a loan executive with the Cass-Clay United Way, "working with all the different payroll drives."

It was a natural fit for Burhans, who worked for Bremer Bank while she was still in high school, and State Bank while she was earning her degree in business and economics from Concordia College in Moorhead.

"After college I went into the Norwest (Bank) Management Training Program, which took me out to Bismarck for a couple of years," she said.

After completing that program, she and her husband of 12 years, Brian Burhans, slowly began moving their way back to her native Detroit Lakes, where they became year-round residents seven years ago.

Along the way, she spent 12 years with Wells Fargo before joining Midwest Bank as vice president of retail banking two years ago.

But even as she pursued her career in banking, Burhans continued working with the United Way of Becker County, where she became involved with the payroll and business drives, the Day of Caring, Food for Thought Backpack Program, Celebration of Heroes and Community Celebration.

She was elected to the Becker County United Way Board of Directors three years ago, and on June 1, she became its 2011-12 president.

"I'm truly honored to be the president of the United Way for this year," Burhans said. "Our local board consists of leaders who are passionate and have the vision to make things happen -- along with Luann Porter, our director. She truly is the face behind the United Way of Becker County."

Though the employee payroll and business drives won't begin until the fall, Burhans has already settled on a theme and a goal for the annual fund-raising campaign.

"Our theme is 'Many Hands United,' and our (campaign) goal is $223,000," she said.

Burhans said she feels that the Becker County chapter of the United Way has been very fortunate to have a continuously high level of community support.

"We are one of the very few (U.W. chapters) that has been able to achieve our fund-raising (campaign) goals -- even through these economic times," she said. "I think that shows the strong level of commitment in our community."

Besides supporting a total of 36 local and regional partner agencies through its annual fund-raising drive, the United Way also sponsors the annual Day of Caring community service project and the Food for Thought Backpack program, for which Burhans served on the planning committee.

"Last year we distributed 6,400 backpacks to elementary-age students in Frazee, Detroit Lakes and Lake Park-Audubon," she said, noting that the aim of the program is to provide food for kids from low-income families to take home with them, so they will have something to eat during evenings and weekends when school isn't in session.

"One out of five kids in Becker County goes to bed hungry," Burhans said, noting that this statistic became real for her one day when her daughter asked to share the snacks she brought to school every day with her fellow students.

When Burhans said no, her daughter protested that some of the kids in her school actually went hungry, and she wanted to help.

"That really hit me," she said. "There are so many kids in Becker County who don't have anything to eat on the weekends, who are left without food in their homes.

"It was the biggest eye opener for me."

Not only that, she said, but those who go hungry or without needed medical, dental and mental health services, because of a lack of funds or access to care, come from all levels of society.

"They are the people around us -- our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers, both old and young," she said.

What drives her passion for United Way, Burhans said, is the desire to make life better for those in need.

"It's really about making Becker County a better place to live and work," she said.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454