ABCD Volunteer Legends: Thelma Burns

By Carmen FariasBurns, Thelma AR2006.jpg

Every community has its luminaries: dedicated individuals whose passion and vision influence and inspire others to come together in service and support. By this definition, Thelma Burns is one of ABCD’s brightest luminaries.

Ms. Burns first became involved in volunteering by following the example of her father, who was the President of the Ward 14 Betterment Association in Dorchester. She has been part of the Dorchester community all her life and participates in various volunteer opportunities as a way to give back to the community. Ms. Burns, who says she considers volunteering necessary, has volunteered her time as a member of the ABCD Board of Directors for over 30 years. She’s seen volunteerism change quite a bit in that time, remarking that while she sees more young people getting involved, “It’s important to make opportunities available to young people.” She explains that volunteering is particularly important for high school students as it can lead to new and better opportunities, and hopes to see more high school students involved in volunteer opportunities at ABCD.

Volunteering is important to Ms. Burns because it has helped her overcome challenges, both in the community and in her life. A two-time cancer survivor, Ms. Burns was moved by the kindness of the volunteers that helped her during her treatment and recovery.  She now volunteers once a week at the concierge desk at Dana Farber, where she was treated. “I look forward to it,” she says, “I want to give back while I can.”

Ms. Burns offers great advice for those looking to get involved in their communities: “You must have an open heart.” She cites compassion and commitment as the principal attributes of a good volunteer: “[You have to] immerse yourself, don’t just do it to do it.” She believes that organizations stand to benefit greatly from the contributions of its volunteers, and to this end, she recommends that volunteers be knowledgeable about the organization with which they’d like to become involved.

Ms. Burns’ dedication and commitment to service has inspired many to join ABCD’s mission. She was honored for these efforts this past May with the dedication of a building in ABCD’s new campus on Warren Street in Roxbury. The Thelma D. Burns building houses offices, classrooms, and community programs where current and future volunteers continue to carry out her legacy of community involvement.

We are grateful to Ms. Burns for her continued service to the ABCD community, and for sharing her thoughts on volunteerism with us. To learn more about ways to get involved with ABCD’s volunteer program, please see the Volunteer Listing section of the newsletter, or contact Madeline Eleazar, Volunteer Coordinator, at 617-348-6591 or at



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