When Betsy Burmeister moved to Martha’s Vineyard nearly two decades ago to take a job at the Island’s new nursing and rehabilitation center, she knew her life would be changed forever. What she didn’t know was how her move to the Island would also change the lives of many others.
In her 18 years as recreation director for Windemere, Ms. Burmeister has frequently watched residents gather to pet local farm animals, and even helped a 100-year-old resident ride a bike for the first time. Once Ms. Burmeister took a 98-year-old woman to the Mansion House for a facial, “because she had never had one and really wanted one.”
“I have learned that my role is really about keeping residents at Windemere engaged in life, making them happy, giving them a reason to get up in the morning and having them participate in the community,” she said.
Ms. Burmeister is one of three local women to be honored on Sept. 6 at the 2014 Women of the Year champagne brunch hosted by Women Empowered — an Island non-profit that helps members of the Island community navigate financial difficulties by providing life skills coaching services all year long. This is the third year the organization will host the brunch, which will take place at the Harbor View Hotel at 11 a.m. Anita Botti, former chief of staff for Hillary Clinton’s office of global women’s issues, is the keynote speaker.
In addition to Ms. Burmeister, Women Empowered will honor Judy Crawford, board president of the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard, and Jesse Keller, director of programs and education at The Yard.
“These are all women that we feel really make a difference to the Island and are continuing to do so,” Women Empowered board president Vivian Stein told the Gazette.
Ms. Stein said Ms. Burmeister stood out to the board because of the programming she continues to bring to Windemere each year.
“Windemere is such an important part of the Vineyard and she is an important person to the community,” Ms. Stein said.
Ms. Burmeister said the support of the Island community is essential. For example, last year students at the high school organized a prom for residents and this year members of the Coast Guard visited Windemere for a night of dinner and dancing.
“I love what I do,” Ms. Burmeister said.
Ms. Crawford can relate. She moved to the Island in 1995. “I’ve been working with the Y for a long, long time and it’s really a dream come true for me,” she said.
It’s also a dream come true for thousands of people in the Island community. To date, the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard has 4,413 individual members, a fairly consistent number, according to membership director Nina Lombardi Kiendzior.
Ms. Crawford is also a founding member and past president of the Island Community Chorus, as well as an active member in a long list of other Island organizations.
“The work I do is for no money at all,” said Ms. Crawford. “I think organizations like the Y will be around for a long, long time and that feels really good. This is the best time in my life and I am just enjoying life so much. I’m a big believer in paying forward and supporting the next generation of the Island community. That’s why I do this,” she said.
Rounding out the honorees for Saturday is Jesse Keller, who at 27 is the youngest person ever to receive the award. She moved to the Island in 2009 to work as an intern at The Yard.
“I feel like I’ve been through a lot of different roles with the organization,” Ms. Keller said. “Within the past few years I’ve done a lot of administrative work and work in the office. Now I’m the director of Island programs and education.”
Coordinating educational programs is one of her favorite roles, she said. “I’ve planned programs at the Y and through ACE MV. This year my main focus is having an education program offered to all the schools.
“In my job I get to take a lot of initiative and I don’t think a lot of young people are given the opportunity to do that, especially with the job market today,” she said. “To have this position, I’m really thankful and grateful.
“I’m totally honored to be recognized, too,” she added. “I was shocked when I found out because I didn’t know people knew who I was. I was talking to my mom about it and I was like, I bet this is how it feels in high school if you were the prom queen. I was never prom queen or homecoming queen, but it feels really cool to be recognized and I’m excited to be honored with two other women who have done really amazing things, too.”
The Women Empowered lunch is Saturday, Sept. 6, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. Tickets are $50 per person. Call 508-696-8880.