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Burgess, Brandon's new honorary mayor, sees bigger role for aquatic center

He was a teacher and coach turned nonprofit director.

Now Chuck Burgess, executive director of the Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center, has added to his resume with a lengthy list of other titles: Rotary Club president, Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce board member, Community Round Table board member and, most recently, honorary mayor of Brandon.

Eight years after relocating to the area to oversee new growth at the aquatic center, Burgess embraces the responsibility, including spearheading swim safety programs for children and intellectually challenged adults.

Burgess, 49, recently spoke to Tampa Bay Times correspondent Kelsey Sunderland about his journey to leave a legacy in the community.

What initially drew you toward working with nonprofit organizations?

Everyone has God-given gifts and talents, and I knew at a very young age that I needed to use them the right way by impacting people. I went into education and taught middle school language arts because middle school kids need good, strong male role models. It was a great opportunity for me to get kids to express themselves and shine. I think helping people and creating opportunities for them to see their potential, and even getting others to make a difference is something I really gravitated toward and found a lot of success in.

What inspired you to enter the honorary mayor's race?

I was asked four years ago by Tammy Holmberg, who is a former honorary mayor and an owner of Chick-fil-A here in town. The timing wasn't right and so fast forward four years, and I felt like it was a great time to run with (the sports and aquatic center) building a new pool in conjunction with and partnership with Youth Drowning Prevention of Hillsborough County, and it being an Olympic year. Shedding some light on youth drowning prevention was a huge motivator.

How did you manage to raise more than $100,000, a record amount for the honorary mayor program?

We set out for a big goal, and we had a lot of people tell us you won't do that in June in Brandon because it's never been done before. Collectively, $161,000 was raised. The strategy for that was really to leverage a lot of our relationships. We ran a lot of events — barbecues, golf tournaments, laser tag events, dance parties, movie nights — that were family-friendly and also just a lot of personal requests. I had people all over the country give to us and our campaign. If it wasn't in June, we probably would have been able to raise much more, simply because there was so many people gone for vacation.

How were the funds disbursed to your charities?

Boys and Girls Club, Rotary Charity Fund, (the sports and aquatic center) and the Community Round Table each got a cut of the funds we raised. When you look at where it goes, combined, a lot of good came out of that. It's really cool to be able to see the tangible impact of what those dollars can do. The beauty of it is that we are living and working in this community, and we just made it $161,000 better.

It seems like you're in Brandon for the long haul and ready to make it better for as long as you can. What's the big draw of this community for you?

I'm a big family man (married for 23 years to Chequita, with a son, Brandon, 13). I love the values. I think the values are so deep here and the expectation for the community members to conform to those high-level values are so important to this community and the people here. It's expected of you. I get inspired everyday by the people around me and when they tell me I'm a good leader, I remind them I'm nowhere near as great a leader as some of these guys who have dedicated their lives to making Brandon what it is.

Since you became executive director at BSAC, you've engaged with a number of groups in the community. What motivates you to continue to become more influential and more involved in this community?

I work hard, and I'm very focused on leaving an impact. I only have so many minutes that I'm given, and I don't know how many I have left, so I don't want to waste my minutes on not being a good person or using my position to do good. We finished raising money and the first thing we said was, "God, we could have done more."

Now that you're mayor, what are you promising your constituents?

Really the only thing I can promise people is that I'm a good listener. I'm good with change, and I like to be innovative. I love alliances and partnerships. I don't think you can operate yourself or your organizations alone. I think I can be an instrument of change, and I promise to do my best with that and to listen to ideas on how to make this community better. Those are the types of things that I'm really focused on.

What's your vision for the Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center? What do you see it becoming in the next five to 10 years?

We want to be the leaders in youth drowning prevention. That's such a big thing for us and we want to be the epicenter for that. So our partnerships with Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation, the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners, the Children's Board and the Hillsborough County school system are relationships we want to thrive. Those are big pieces for us. So whether it's mobile swim lessons or swim lessons we're doing for Head Start programs, we want to expand it all. We also want to expand our sports programs and I think our adult special needs program could be phenomenal. We've had a great partnership with Livingston Academy Autism Center, and we do some full day programming with them already. But I think that will start to grow as well.

Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Kelsey Sunderland at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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