Thursday, September 18, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Outpouring of kindness for Philly hero Brandon Burwell

During this joyous time of year, there's nothing that's more of a tearjerker than Frank Capra's 1946 Christmas fantasy drama film, It's a Wonderful Life.

Outpouring of kindness for Philly hero Brandon Burwell

Thanks to a generous response by the Flyers, Brandon Burwell will get to meet his own sports hero, Wayne SImmonds. (Photo courtesy of MASAKO FEATHERMAN)
Thanks to a generous response by the Flyers, Brandon Burwell will get to meet his own sports hero, Wayne SImmonds. (Photo courtesy of MASAKO FEATHERMAN)

During this joyous time of year, there’s nothing that’s more of a tearjerker than Frank Capra’s 1946 Christmas fantasy drama film, It’s a Wonderful Life.

In that classic sentimental story, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) learns the hard way about all the lives he has touched. “Each man's life touches so many other lives,” his friend Clarence tells him, later stating, “Remember no man is a failure who has friends.”

Well, just like George Bailey, former Wawa employee Brandon Burwell has touched so many people’s lives – both friends as well as complete strangers.

And like George Bailey, Brandon Burwell is going to have a wonderful Christmas – perhaps the best of his 24-year-old life.

In fact, Christmas is coming early for Burwell because of the kindness and thoughtfulness of so many people who were touched by the courage he displayed when he decked a would-be robber at the Center City Wawa store where he worked. Burwell said he was subsequently terminated from his clerk’s position as a result of his actions.

This did not sit well with many of you. And both Burwell and I were – and continue to be -- amazed at your responses.

Many emails and messages came to me Friday – and most of which have been forwarded directly to Burwell. (I say “most” because some were MLM scams and some contained inappropriate/offensive language. But they were in the extreme minority.)

There’s the email from Heidi Chhabria, the divisional director for Accountants For You & OfficeStaff For You. Chhabria, who has been a recruiter in Philadelphia for 15 years, generously volunteered her expertise to help Burwell get a decent job. “Not only would I like to help Brandon find a new position, but I can also help him with his resume (if he needs one, or if the one he has needs "sprucing up"),” Chhabria said, adding she can also help “with interviewing tips for any offers that may come down the pike.”

Nice!

Then there’s a restaurateur who wrote: “My name is Chris Fetfatzes and along with my wife we own two restaurants in the city, Hawthornes & The Cambridge. I would love to sit and discuss a few potential opportunities with Brandon. If you can kindly pass along my information that would be great!”

In a follow-up email, Chris said, “Since it's the holidays hopefully this bit of news will bring the readers good cheer, inspire Philadelphians to do good and give Brandon a great Christmas! We're firm believers of karma.”

You’ve got me believing, too!

Even emails pointing to potential jobs were appreciated … and plentiful.

Many readers who wrote to me and asked me to send their messages to Burwell preferred not to have their names, companies or opportunities mentioned out of concern that their managers might be upset with them giving Burwell preference over others.

All I can say to that is God bless you!

Speaking of which, I received many inspirational notes. The one which touched me the most was a religious note that came from Marie Bonner, of the Andorra section of Philadelphia. “While I am not in a position to give this wonderful young man a job, I will do my best to try and promote your story,” Bonner said, adding, “I will pray to St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers. If we ask in prayer, our petition will be answered. I know that your good deed of telling his story will not go unrewarded and I know he will have a job by tomorrow. Thanks for sharing this good news.”

In a subsequent email from Bonner, she said, “We are all put here to help others and this world would be a better place, if more of us did this.”

I could not agree more.

Eugene VanArsdale, of South Philadelphia, is arguably one of the most spiritual people I know. VanArsdale made the news by courageously fighting the closure of Annunciation BVM. About Burwell, he said, “There is good in everyone -- some much more good like yourself and others whose heart is dark and closed. We have to keep the bright ones bright and shine light in the others.”

Letters came from far away, too.

Peter Whitman wrote from Texas, telling me, “Thank you for writing something positive about somebody in Philly. Please keep us updated on our hero.”

Then there was this letter from Craig P. Mullen: “I am a Philadelphia-born and raised and currently live in Mount Royal, N.J.," he wrote. "I am the president and co-founder of the non-profit organization, Andrew Farrell Spirit of Courage Fund. For the past 10 years, we have raised funds for Philadelphia public school students and CHOP. I believe in helping any young Philadelphian out and hope that the professional and collegiate sports teams in Philadelphia are able to help bring Brandon in for a job interview!”

Craig remembered that Brandon’s dream job would be working for a sports team. Specifically, that would be for the Flyers.

Well, speaking of the Flyers, there was this very kind act of generosity from Dan Hershberg.

“I was sent your story this morning on Brandon Burwell by a friend and found myself inspired by his actions," Hershberg wrote. "I own and operate a small business called Philly Phaithful... As a sole proprietor/entrepreneur operating with a limited budget, I don't have any job opportunities available outside of small part-time work, but as a Flyers season ticket holder I wanted to offer him a pair of my tickets to a game so he could enjoy a night out watching his favorite team. Please feel free to pass along my information to Brandon so we can connect and pick a game if he'd be interested.”

Later, after I thanked Hershberg, he responded, “Thanks for the kind words but it's only a small gesture that feels like the right thing to do. As a native Philadelphian, it's great to be reminded of the character that's very much alive and well in this city. Brandon was brave and in a tough situation; I figure he should kick back with a cold beer in hand and watch his favorite team play.”

Talk about the kindness of a complete stranger. Now that is what Philadelphia is all about.

And Hershberg wasn’t the only one offering tickets, but he was the only one who gave permission to list his name.

I can’t begin to tell you how many people volunteered to help, offered encouragement, offered tickets, suggested jobs, or, in one person’s case, offered money.

One such email came from Phyllis Kanarkowski of Ocean City, N.J., who asked, “Could you give me his home address so I can send a check for a small amount as a token of appreciation?” Karnarkowski, who is a part-time nurse counselor with cancer patients and their families, also serves as a volunteer ministry with her church, providing individual supportive counseling and occasional workshops for women.

This is sounding like “It’s a Wonderful Life” more and more.

A few well-known celebrities contacted me, as well. Stay tuned there.

And even friends from the past came out of the woodwork.

In an email entitled “My former student Brandon‏,” Robin Lowry, Ph.D, told me, “I'm happy to hear that Brandon, who I knew from my years at Gratz, continued to demonstrate his awesomeness. He was that way in school and I remember when he came back from Penn State for Christmas break, and although he wanted to be an engineer, he was just swamped by the math so he switched his major to info tech I believe. I've since wondered how he was making out. He was such a mature and serious young man then and I can now add courageous.”

But the news that absolutely floored Burwell came from, yes, the Philadelphia Flyers.

Thanks to Daily News sports writers Frank Seravalli and Ed Barkowitz, who teamed up to get the news to some higher-ups at the Flyers.

And then this email came to me Friday.

"Our organization is familiar with the story after reading with great interest the piece in Philly.com. We have been in touch with Brandon and have scheduled an informational interview for him next week. We also know how enthusiastic he is about the Flyers and we have invited him to attend one of our practices when we return from our extended road trip to meet his favorite player, Wayne Simmonds."

Who wrote that?

None other than Ike Richman, vice president of public relations for Comcast-Spectacor.

What a mench.

Regardless of what happens with the Flyers organization and Burwell, this has been a dream come true for him.

Burwell, who I must have called at least a half-dozen times yesterday to share good news, is taking it in the best he can. Quite frankly, I think the newfound fame is a bit overwhelming for him.

He had this to say for you, the readers: "It's unbelievable. I am really appreciating all the responses I'm getting. I appreciate everyone taking the time to read the story. I'm happy for that."

As for his meeting next week with the Flyers, Burwell was all smiles. “I am ecstatic. I am about to do back flips at the moment."

John Featherman
About this blog
John Featherman is a contributor at Philly.com and writes about politics and consumer-related issues. Reach John at john@featherman.com.

John Featherman
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