Who: Family and friends of Michael “Jake” Burkhardt knew the teen as a fun, kind and generous person with an amazing smile. Standing at 6 feet, 4 inches, with blond hair, Burkhardt enjoyed outdoor activities, including hiking and campfires, as well as spending time with his brother Ben and his two beagles.
Burkhardt planned to make a career out of his interest in nature and studied wildlife biology at Keystone College. He undertook research at Lacawac Sanctuary in Lake Ariel for a Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science project in high school and interned at SEEDS (Sustainable Energy Education & Development Support) of Northeastern Pennsylvania. The Honesdale-based nonprofit is “committed to developing local renewable energy infrastructure, promoting energy efficiency and encouraging sustainable living in our region,” explained Executive Director Olga Trushina.
In January 2016, however, the 19-year-old was tagging along with friends one night when three deer ran in front of their vehicle. Burkhardt, sitting in the front passenger seat, was killed, but he gave back to his world even then as an organ donor, helping several people in need.
What: After his death, Burkhardt’s family sought to give back to SEEDS, which had given him a scholarship following his graduation with honors from Western Wayne High School in 2015. The Burkhardt Memorial Scholarship was established in his memory and is open to seniors from Western Wayne, Honesdale, Wallenpaupack Area and Stroudsburg high schools and Damascus and Canaan Christian academies as well as to home-schooled seniors living in those districts.
Each year, a SEEDS panel poses a question about sustainability and local issues to area high school students and asks them to come up with solutions in an essay. The panel then reviews the essays to pick the scholarship recipient. The most recent winner, Sinclaire Ogof of Western Wayne, came up with the metaphor of “putting on the red cape” when making eco-friendly decisions, a concept Trushina said “closely describes what our scholarship does for the community.”
“We’re equipping our local youth with red capes so they can be local environmental superheroes,” she said.
Why: The Burkhardt family cannot financially afford to continue funding the scholarship, so Trushina said SEEDS has started fundraising to keep it going. The organization has raised about 25% of what it needs to fund the scholarship for the next decade, she added, and it hopes to collect another $40,000 “to continue putting on red capes on local students.”
“This scholarship doesn’t only provide the students with funding needed for higher education, but it also focuses attention on local issues and kindles love for the Northeast Pennsylvania community,” Trushina said.
How: People can donate to the scholarship fund through a GoFundMe page, “Putting on the Red Cape in Rural America”; SEEDS’ website, seedsgroup.net; or PayPal (include a note specifying that the donation is for the scholarship). SEEDS also accepts check and money order donations by mail at 1030 Main St., Floor 2, Honesdale, PA 18431. For more information, email email@example.com.
In her own words: “Support for this campaign goes directly into the Burkhardt Memorial Scholarship. This means that each year a local student will be able to consider the preservation of the NEPA environment, economy and community in their essay contemplations and long-term goals.” — Olga Trushina, SEEDS executive director
Caitlin Heaney West is the content editor for Access NEPA and oversees the Early Access blog in addition to working as a copy editor and staff writer for The Times-Tribune. An award-winning journalist, she is a summa cum laude graduate of Shippensburg University and also earned a master’s degree from Marywood University. Caitlin joined the Times-Shamrock family in 2009 and lives in Scranton. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5107; or @cheaneywest