Grade 11 student Morgan Burke is one of 13 Ontario Junior Citizen Award winners this year. She was recognized for her innovative business The Birds and the Bees along with the creative fundraiser for Haliburton Highlands Health Services Foundation. /DARREN LUM File photo

Burke and her bees buzzing about Junior Citizen Award

By Sue Tiffin

Published Jan. 29 2019

To her long list of ever-growing accolades 16-year-old apiarist and entrepreneur Morgan Burke can now add that she is the recipient of an Ontario Junior Citizen Award.

The finalists for the award sponsored by the Ontario Community Newspapers Association and TD Bank Group were announced last week and Burke who is described by family and friends as being humble was surprised to find she was one of them.

The award recognizes youth aged nine to 17 who actively demonstrate strong leadership skills creativity determination generosity and a desire to make a difference within their communities.

“I was pretty surprised I wasn’t expecting it” she said. “There’s a lot of good people working in different communities. I didn’t think I was going to be nominated into the finals. It’s a lot to take in. I feel really good about it. It’s an honour.”

The Haliburton resident and Grade 11 student at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School is one of 13 recipients of the award this year from around the province alongside fellow recipients including 11-year-old Jacob Taylor of Metcalfe who started a monthly kindness club after being bullied 13-year-old Zara Belanger-Pepper of Chatham who wrote a book titled What Have I Learned after her father died by suicide 17-year-old Iman Berry of Windsor who ran a project connecting Canadian students with refugees to increase cultural awareness and help newcomers feel more comfortable and 16-year-old Taylor Dallin of Toronto who has dedicated more than 885 hours to community service.

Burke has already been making a buzz with her business The Birds and the Bees in which she has developed a line of products using honey from bees she raises herself.

Her name has appeared in this paper several times in the past few years for notable achievements including being the youngest exhibitor at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in 2017 where she earned the Staff’s Pick for best in customer service and best display being awarded a $3000 grant from the Summer Company program through the Kawartha Lakes Small Business and Entrepreneurship Centre earlier that year and being named young professional of the year in 2018 by the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce.

Recently she donated more than $2000 to the Haliburton Highlands Health Services Foundation after launching a “Bee’cause We Care” fundraising campaign selling honey bottled in branded jars to help the hospital.

“I want to become a nurse so I wanted to work with the hospital on something that helps them because we are a small community” she said. “I just wanted to help out the community. I’ve helped the hospital with a few fundraising events and I just wanted to help.”

Additionally she created a unique beehive sponsorship program in which individuals or groups can sponsor one of the 15 beehives in her yard at a drone level ($50) worker bee level ($75) up to a whole beehive sponsorship ($500) which benefits the HHHSF as well.

Sponsors can visit their hive to see the bees working and receive a gift package that might include honey from their hive and some of the products Burke creates like lip balm a candle a lotion bar or soap.

“It is inspiring to witness her strong sense of community support manifested in the highly creative fundraising initiative she has begun” wrote Lisa Tompkins executive director HHHSF in the nomination package.

Besides amassing newspaper articles about her accomplishments Burke now has that nomination package created for the Ontario Junior Citizen Award that is 28-pages thick with referral letters singing her praises from community members that include Tompkins; Heather Reid of the Abbey Gardens Community Trust; Richard Wannan past-president of the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce; Patti Tallman executive director of the Haliburton County Development Corporation; and teachers from her high school.

The letters describe Burke as being highly motivated hard-working and dedicated and community-minded with spirit commitment and great initiative.

It was Tompkins who nominated Burke for the Ontario Junior Citizen Award.

“Her creative and innovative approach to product development and her clear willingness to ‘do the work’ to be successful has resulted in recognition from a number of business and community sectors as the many supporting nomination forms indicate” wrote Tompkins in the award application.”She is highly respectful makes the effort to seek guidance when needed and demonstrates a degree of professionalism well beyond her years.”

“Once her business was established she approached me … to see how she could give back to the community” wrote Carolyn Plummer CEO of HHHS in the award nomination package. “Working together with our hospital foundation Morgan created a unique and innovative fundraiser that not only brings in financial support for our health services but also helps engage other members of the community in learning about beekeeping and the importance of bees in supporting a healthy environment. She is one of the most creative innovative and caring people I’ve met and her work with us has helped raise the profile of our organization in a whole new context.”

While she puts dozens of hours of work into her business each week Burke’s teachers acknowledge she also works to uphold her status as an honours student.

“She was spending many many hours in addition to [preparing for the Royal Winter Fair] preparing products to sustain the high demand of sales” wrote Amy Klose HHSS teacher. “Through all of this Morgan managed to balance her time to maintain her high standards in the classroom maintain relationships with her friends and she continued to communicate respectfully and thoughtfully with her teachers regarding her progress with school work. Morgan is a great kid.”

Klose noted Burke’s generosity in sharing the financial benefits of her hard work with the community.

“When I heard that she was sacrificing so much of her time and energy to her business I was impressed”she said. “To hear that she is donating so much of her profit to the community is very remarkable. Morgan’s giving nature demonstrates her exceptional citizenship.”

Burke’s business has grown from just two beehives in 2017 to 15 now.

“When I look back everyone has to grow and I think I learned a lot from the fi rst year” she said. “We had a lot of farmers’ markets which became very tiring. You kind of get to work around what works for you and what doesn’t. I think that I’ve just really matured and kind of when I started I really didn’t know what products I wanted for the business. I was still testing things. It’s nice now to look and see that I have a stable product line. I think I have grown a lot during that time. It’s kind of really helped me focus on what I want for the business.”

Burke’s family – especially parents Darcy and Donna – has backed her from the beginning and she hopes her little sister can take on the business for her while she eventually pursues a nursing education at university.

Burke is quick to thank her family and the community for her success.

“I think the support I’ve had from the community and my parents they’ve really pushed me” she said. “The beekeeping community there’s a company called Dancing Bees they’re my supplier and they’ve kind of [taken] me under their wing and mentored me. I think they’ve really helped. I think you need to have initiative and have a goal to succeed.”

Burke along with the 12 other Ontario Junior Citizen Award finalists have been invited to attend a special ceremony in Toronto in March which will be attended by the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

“It feels great” said Burke of being a finalist in the program. “I hope I can encourage younger students to kind of help the community and do what they want to do.”

The Ontario Junior Citizen Awards are promoted with the support of 240 community newspaper members in the Ontario Community Newspapers Association recognizing young leaders who are involved in community service are contributing to their community while living with a physical or psychological limitation who have performed acts of heroism or bravery or who achieve excellence in personal achievement.

According to a press release candidates are also recognized for being “good kids” who go above and beyond what is expected of their age and show a commitment to making life better for others. Or as Heather Reid wrote in her nomination “the world needs more people like Morgan.”

For more information about Burke’s business The Birds and the Bees visit The Birds and the Bees on Facebook @thebirdsandthebeesonline on Instagram or website.