The Community Builder

Interview with Ryan Burton

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over a phone call in the evening.

How he’s making a difference in the world: Ryan is a fellow at a prestigious foundation in Colorado Springs that allocates funds to organizations and offering community outreach programs that directly benefit the the people of Colorado. Ryan is a civic leader and a community builder.

Conor Taft helping me out, again, with his wonderful network of people! Conor and Ryan went to undergrad together and Conor thought Ryan would be the perfect person for me to get connected with–he was right!

Q: Ryan, what does it mean to be a civic leader and community builder?

A: To me, it means working with and not for individuals and communities to make a positive change. That’s a really important piece of it—that in order to create change it takes a community as a whole. Civic leaders help to facilitate that change. One example could mean bringing different stakeholders (corporate, nonprofit, etc.) together to move forward in a process or a cause.

Ryan grew up in Colorado Springs and made his way to the University of Kansas for his undergraduate degree in English and political science. He then completed a year of service through City Year where he worked at an urban middle school in Boston.

He found himself next at Washington University in St. Louis where he obtained his Masters in Social Work with a focus in urban education and management.

Wanting to continue his professional and leadership skills brought him back to Colorado Springs where he now works to better his community.

His resume is impressive and his experiences many but speaking with Ryan is like speaking to a long-time friend. His passion for giving back and intellectual remarks exude with kindness. While he is already making a difference in the world, I have a feeling Ryan’s name will be associated with even bigger, positive differences in the future.

Q: Tell me more about your current role at the Foundation!

A: After graduating with my masters, I wanted to continue developing my professional and leadership skills. I knew of a foundation in Colorado Springs that combined leadership and professional growth all while giving back to the community. We work to promote the well-being of Colorado citizens by allocating grant dollars to nonprofit organizations and hosting community outreach programs. I direct and staff some of our programs and I support our grant making efforts in the Denver area.

I’m lucky I’ve gotten to experience our work come to life. I love conducting site visits to the places that have received grants to see the impact of the Foundation’s dollars. It’s really cool to be a part of a solution that brings people together to tackle complex issues

Q: How has your education led you to the work you currently do?

A: My education was very multidisciplinary, which has let me integrate different fields of study. That directly translates to my job, as I’m constantly relying on what I learned through my liberal arts education and my professional social work degree. I’ve learned that change happens at a cross-section of people and ideas coming together.

Q: Ryan, why is giving back important to you?

A: I think on a broad scale, we all have a life to live and, above all, I want to lead a meaningful life. I recognized in myself that when I was being true and authentic, I was caring for and about people. I’m obsessed with people’s well-being.

“My professional and personal values are really intertwined and reflect who I am as a person. I like that about my job.”

Q: What does your dream job look like?

A: I think the thing is I couldn’t tell you what my dream job is—it’s something I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older. I’m a community driven person. You can have a fulfilling life in a number of different jobs and skills, but for me, as long as I feel a sense of connection to community, then I’ll feel happy.

I’m open to life taking me in unexpected places. If I stay true to myself and follow my passions, I’ll know my dream job when I see it.

Q: What advice you would give to others who want to live out their passions?

A:    1. Give yourself the space to reflect. I reflect on a daily basis. Having the time to process and be alone with my thoughts has been really valuable. I can focus on what is meaningful.

2. Give yourself the freedom to make mistakes and fail.

3. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that some people feel guilty for not following a certain path or career. They think there is a path they should follow. At the end of the day, you have to define success and happiness on your own terms.

4. Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to others.

5. Unplug! Unplugging is really big. Plan space and time to get back to what is simple and important in this world.

Q: What are some books that have inspired you?

A: “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

“The Fault In Our Stars” by John Green

“Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance

“Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson

“The Republic” by Plato

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