A Small Epiphany Leads to a Big Life's Purpose

June 2012

There was a moment a few years ago, while 26-year-old Erika Burnett was still an undergrad student at Tennessee State University, when she realized that a life of serving others was just the life she wanted.

She’d volunteered with some friends to tutor inner-city kids through the Youth Encouragement Services program. “They paired me with a little girl named Epiphany,” she recalls. “She was being sort of difficult that day.”

“I hate math!” the 7-year-old announced, all pique and stubbornness.

Burnett quickly grasped that the other volunteers were avoiding working with Epiphany. And, as a newer volunteer, she’d gotten “stuck” with the kid nobody wanted to deal with. But as she chatted with the little girl, Epiphany started talking about Burnett’s hair. That broke the ice.

“She really liked my hair,” Burnett laughs. And that tiny connection was enough — enough to help Burnett see that the small girl’s bravado veiled her fear, that she hated math because she didn’t understand it, that nobody had ever bothered to try to crack her shell before. Suddenly the two were working on math homework together. “And before she left, she gave me a hug,” Burnett says. “And she said, ‘Will you be back next week?’”

Burnett recalls regretting the promise the following week, thinking about all the better things she had to do that afternoon. “I dragged myself back, and she was waiting at the door,” smiles Burnett. “And the director said, ‘She’s refused to work with any other volunteer.’”

For the next two years, until Epiphany’s family moved away, Burnett and Epiphany “had a great relationship.” Even simple things, like trips to a mall or restaurant, were largely outside of the little girl’s experience — as was spending her days with a female role model working towards a college degree. Epiphany lived in a tough housing development. Her cousin had been killed, her favorite uncle incarcerated. “That was her reality,” says Burnett. “And for her to understand that this person whose hair I like is in school and likes it. Now she wants to be around more college-educated African-American women. That’s a complete paradigm shift.

“And I realized,” she says, “we can make a difference in one person’s life if we choose to.”

Burnett gravitated toward service work early in life. The Detroit native moved to Indianapolis at age 12 and began volunteering at a children’s museum. She’d regale visitors with stories about how to mummify a body, or get on her hands and knees with kids to demonstrate how archeologists dig into ancient sands. “I learned a lot about Egypt,” she recalls.

Today, Burnett works at Hands On Nashville, leading a yearlong grant project that integrates service learning into TSU’s first-year student orientation curriculum. On a recent spring Saturday, she coordinated student volunteer projects all over the city, hustling from a community garden to an industrial kitchen where college kids learned to prepare delicious, healthy food. She hopes her work at TSU may inspire a new generation of young people to enjoy helping others as much as she has. “All those people who poured into me,” she says of family, professors, and co-workers, “now I pour that into these students.”

It’s far too easy, Burnett points out, for people to think of volunteerism as a sort of feel-good vacation rather than a way to live your life. And in the communities she serves, she keeps seeing this skepticism. That’s why, for Burnett, true service is all about keeping promises, like the one she made to Epiphany, and sticking around for the long haul, weaving her service into a life’s purpose.

On that path, she’s earned a master’s degree from Vanderbilt in education and community development, worked on domestic violence prevention at the YWCA, and volunteered at an orphanage in Uganda. Her interests are broad, but her vision is pure: She wants to connect, to impart knowledge, to share all the aspects of herself that some tough little corner of the world might need. “To take all those pieces of me and use them to make a difference,” she says, describing her dream life. “The things we do for each other can transcend the most devastating conditions ever.”

Photo by Michael W. Bunch


dyann1984's picture

Wonderful article. God is great and he is shifting your life. I admire you, well-versued Tiffany Y-Davis

lmile2's picture

you must be feel proud to your sister great to read and find this article very good and interesting!!!!!
pest control

jupeter41's picture

She had done lots of work in less time and age and implemented her own idea in to real things.

tuneseo's picture

She has doing a lot work as social and proud ti hr nation and awarded many times.
hr software

“All those people who poured into me,” she says of family, professors, and co-workers, “now I pour that into these students.”

raok7's picture

I really appreciate your work,thanks for posting…please write more blogs on such topics,I would like to read more such blogs…
copper braider

ash85's picture

I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article.alkausartravel

Fast work's picture

This is really interesting news, I was looking for the post since for a while, glad to found it, i have bookmarked it to keep update. Submit Articles

usman8's picture

I just found this blog and have high hopes for it to continue. Keep up the great work, its hard to find good ones. I have added to my favorites. And the concept of Thank You. college best

SHAKIB's picture

Huntington Beach Garage Door Repair Really impressed! Everything is very open and very clear clarification of issues. It contains truly information. Your website is very valuable. Thanks for sharing.

steelrange5's picture

Every one is decided their career at the age of teen but very few people success in their decided goals.

Each people decided to become a special person but it depends on hope and planning.I had decided to join the Aeronautic but not achieved because of financial issues.

steelrange5's picture

She must be a very strong lady, heads of to her the spirit she has show for such kinds of stuff...
website designing company
website designing company

dollyjee's picture

I have bookmarked Debt consolidation website because this site contains valuable information in it.I am really happy with articles quality and presentation.Thanks a lot for keeping great stuff.I am very much thankful for this site.

tompal's picture

I am glad that you made a great change to the little girl's life and at the same time decided to servr others. Thinking from another perspective, only if we try to understand each person better only then the real problem to an issue can be really dealt with.OmniTechSupport.com Review

areeshay222's picture

I am glad that you made a great change to the little girl's life and at the same time decided to servr others
personal statement for midwifery

ptech38's picture

Taking the time ad actual effort to create a great article like this…….but what can I say…speechless…..exceptionally good post....
dewa pier 20 in kochi

dewa pier 20 in kochi

usman8's picture

The blog was absolutely fantastic! Lot of great information which can be helpful in some or the other way. gamblingandlawyers.com

jackmathewto's picture

yaa it is a big decision for life as per the main sources you have provided its like you are being here for some more kinds of variable instrument which leads to your imagination!!!!!
industrial lockers

princess's picture

I am impressed by the content of this site. The ideas and thoughts of the author are really good. Thank you for sharing it to others. Check out miami condos blogspot.

I use to believe that all things happens for a reason. The two girls were supposed to meet for a reason. I like to visit a lot sites like Psychic Cosmos and to search the meaning of all the things around me.

Henry Silver's picture

Erika Burnett your story is superb and i love the work of Nashville! economics assignment - writing villa

Peter Wiley's picture

Well its been an inspirational story about this lady,motivation and dedication never let anyone down. uk coursework

ronan1122's picture

Wonderful blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo News. Do you have any suggestions on how to get listed in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Appreciate it.
telecharger minecraft

ronan1122's picture

It reveals how nicely you perceive this subject. Bookmarked this web page, will come back for extra articles. You, my pal, ROCK! I found simply the information I already searched all over the place and simply couldn't come across. What a perfect web-site.
créer un compte minecraft gratuit

ronan1122's picture

You have a real ability for writing unique content. I like how you think and the way you represent your views in this article. I agree with your way of thinking. Thank you for sharing.
créer un serveur minecraft

ronan1122's picture

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well..
Eagle Book Clubs Articles

ronan1122's picture

it was a wonderful chance to visit this kind of site and I am happy to know. thank you so much for giving us a chance to have this opportunity..
free minecraft hosting

wandaromaine's picture

It is so nice to hear a story like this, so motivational and inspiring. Thank you for building such a thoughtful and well intentioned internet site and making it public for all. at six figure funnel formula

buzzbindaas's picture

Really impressive!!!!!! And it is very kind to hear such story which motivates and i was willing to read such post in social media marketing agencies

AndrewAlpert4's picture

This is really inspiring post for students and The way of writing is really beautiful. I must appreciate the effort of writer. www.courseworklabs.co.uk

zane1122's picture

You’ve got some interesting points in this article. I would have never considered any of these if I didn’t come across this. Thanks!.
bubblegum casting

Her Well Being: Stories of Health, Survival, and Livin' It Up Her Style

Perchance To Dream

Shauntel Jennings has never slept like a baby. Even as an infant, her mother stood guard over her crib, waiting for her daughter to stop breathing. She shook Shauntel’s tiny body several times each night, rousing her from her breathless sleep.

To read this and other Her Well-Being stories, click here.

Real Estate: Home Video Tours
Searching for a new home? Her Nashville is excited to partner with HouseLens.com, offering buyers easy-to-view video tours of Middle Tennessee's hottest homes.

7285 Zion Ln, Columbia TN 38
Price: $274,900
Bedrooms/Bathrooms: 3/3

813 Creek Oak Dr, Murfreesboro TN 37
Price: $0
Bedrooms/Bathrooms: 0/0

View More Homes

Mailing list sign-up

Copyright © 2009 Her Nashville