Pat Burke, the Kovler Center, and Heartland Housing

On Commitment and 20 Years of Service

There’s only so much time in the day, and investing precious time and energy into a person, activity, or even a belief means there is inevitably less time for something else. This is called opportunity cost – and many of us are reluctant to incur that cost when it comes to our personal time. However, for those ready to pay the price for the right commitment, the return on investment is often times far more fulfilling than expected.

Pat Burke, this year’s Heartland Alliance Volunteer of the Year, walks the path of devotion. Her 20-plus year commitment to Heartland Alliance is a testament to the benefits of devotion and consistency. But for Pat, the pleasure is all hers.

“It’s a privilege to get to work with Heartland’s participants, and the work itself well worth-while.”

Most of us can’t imagine doing anything for 20 years, let alone volunteering our extra time and energy. Pat, however, doesn’t see this work as extra-curricular. Instead, working with refugees, asylum seekers, and low-income individuals is simply an extension of her day-to-day life. Pat has been a nurse since 1969, and her life’s focus has been on the health and wellbeing of others.

Over the decades, Pat worked for organizations serving people with mental illness, at-risk teens, and even burn victims at the Cook County Burn Unit.

“All together, I spent about 11 years of my career in the blood and guts type of nursing. Most of my career was spent in psychiatric nursing at University of Illinois hospital”

This work exposed Pat to issues related to violence, homelessness, mental health – issues she came to realize all share one common thread: trauma. Pat began to develop an understanding of the trauma-informed care philosophy years before it became common in the healthcare field.

In an effort to further develop her trauma-informed practice, Pat began training in massage therapy through the renowned Bob King and Chicago School of Massage Therapy (now the Cortiva Institute). The school was one of the first in the nation to legitimize the practice for its health benefits, and was a major influence on Pat. Bob King’s focus on hands-on training and service encouraged his students to find opportunities to do pro-bono work.

“He wanted us to get the word out through practice, and we were able to do some good.”

Pat ended up finding Heartland Alliance’s Marjorie Kovler Center for Survivors of Torture. The people served through this program, due to the nature of their experiences, often have trouble with physical contact and trust. Pat quickly found her niche, working with victims of torture and helping individuals cope and grow from their experiences through massage therapy. For the better part of two decades, Pat has been a part of the recovery process for countless individuals working through trauma.

Just recently, Pat ran into her one of her first clients at the Kovler Center. Twenty years later, the woman had created a life full of family and happiness. Pat laughed as she recalled the reunion.

“She looked at me with a great smile and said ‘You’re getting old, Pat!’”

After retiring from their careers, Pat and her husband focused full-time on service. A year ago, the two joined the Ignation Volunteer Corps, a service organization rooted in the Jesuit tradition of the Catholic Church. Pat’s husband – a lawyer by trade – was matched up with Prairie State Legal Service, while Pat found herself in a medical outreach position at Heartland Housing’s Leland Apartments, an affordable housing development on the North Side of Chicago.

“Our goal is to connect people with ongoing healthcare. My job is to make sure people are receiving that healthcare, get it to people who aren’t, and educate people who don’t know about it.”

Heartland Alliance believes in ending poverty by creating equity and opportunity for all people through access to safety, health, housing, educations, economic opportunity and justice. Access to opportunity  enhances a person ability to thrive and reach their full potential. Pat’s commitment to her field gave her that solid understanding decades ago, and her ability to connect people with both affordable housing and healthcare has helped so many already.

“I start the day figuring out what’s been going on lately. Get the gossip, see who has left, see who’s new since I’ve last been here. Early contact is often the key to outreach. People are often times delighted to find out our service is here.”

Pat explained this through one of her first experiences at the Leland. Pat’s initial outreach to a couple who both have vision impairments seemed to fall flat. The husband was not interested in developing any sort of communication at first. So instead, Pat reached out to the wife, who saw the intrinsic value in having her own personal liaison to the healthcare world.

“She was just gaga over us the resident services team. We began connecting her to the services we could provide through Heartland Health Outreach and other services.”

Through her relationship with the wife, Pat was able to slowly gain the trust of the husband. She’s been helping provide medical access to the couple ever since.

Commitment, devotion, and sacrifice are nothing new to Pat Burke. She believes in the value of helping others simply for the sake of helping, and after two decades of doing so has developed an incredible expertise in service. Her achievements, like the lives she has touched, are many. Heartland Alliance is proud to have been there at her side for so long.

Thank you, Pat.