Living in the OC: Penny Burillo tirelessly volunteers for the county she loves

November 11, 2015

Burrillo, Penny

Today, we introduce a new series of stories featuring those who love living in Oceana County, titled Living in the OC. Why do you live here? What makes Oceana County so special? Do you have a story to tell or a suggestion, contact OCP Editor Allison Scarbrough at [email protected] 

By Allison Scarbrough. OCP Editor.

HART — Penny Burillo stands apart as a tireless volunteer who constantly puts others above herself.

Burillo works more hours than most full-time employees, but she doesn’t get paid for what she does. She volunteers in many capacities for Oceana County, because she loves living here.

“I want to give back to the county that has given so much to me,” she said. “I love Oceana County. I had a great upbringing, a safe upbringing, and I’ve always wanted to give back to Oceana County. I was raised in a safe and positive environment,” the Hart native said.

“It’s beautiful here,” Burillo said. “I love driving around Oceana County and looking at the scenery. It’s beautiful any time of the year.”

The 68-year-old, who is fluent in Spanish, is the acting director of the Oceana County Hispanic Center in Hart, where she spends every weekday afternoon. The center, which has been in existence for four years, provides many important services for the county’s growing Hispanic population. The center provides English as a Second Language (ESL) courses; a Michigan State University General Education Development (GED) program; translation services; citizenship classes; and a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA helps children who moved to U.S. before their 16th birthday acquire identification cards, which then provides an opportunity to apply for college, Burillo said. The center has helped 200 Hispanic youth with this process.

Burillo transports Hispanic adults to citizenship classes at the Mexican Consulate in Detroit a few times a month to help them gain U.S. citizenship. “This has been very successful,” she said. “We have helped about 10-20 people get their citizenship.”

In addition to her volunteer work at the Hispanic center, Burillo also translates at the Oceana County Courthouse for Friend of the Court. She serves on the Hart Public Library Board; the Hart Wastewater Board; and the 4-H Youth Council. She also served as parish president for her church, Saint Gregory’s Catholic, for many years and has served on the Hart Public Schools Board of Education.

Burillo volunteers for the Oceana County Victim Services program, which offers immediate aid to people who have suffered the loss of a loved one, particularly from car accidents. “We are there for the relatives when a person passes away,” she said. “The police officers and the ambulance workers have a job to do, so we are there to console the family, be a helping hand.” The program is offered through the Oceana County Sheriff’s Office.

She also has a part-time job (one that actually involves her getting paid) translating for Mercy Health.

“You never know whose life you’re going to affect,” Burillo said. “It’s very gratifying.”

Burillo’s career focused on helping people. She worked as a family independence specialist for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in Hart for 25 years until her retirement.

The mother of three and grandmother of 13 was widowed in 2001 when her husband of 23 years, Ramez Gonzalez, passed away.

Burillo comes from a family dedicated to public service. Her late grandmother, Mildred Pangburn, was the county clerk; her late grandfather, Delbert “Todd” Brimmer was the Hart city police chief: and her late father, Jack Pangburn, owned a local trucking company.

She is currently hosting a Hart High School exchange student, Lysa Poumirol, who is from the French-speaking island named Reunion located near Madagascar. Poumirol speaks six languages, Burillo said, and Spanish is one of them.

Burillo hopes that more young people will follow in her footsteps and give back to Oceana County like she does. “We need to get more young people to volunteer,” she said. If they love and appreciate Oceana County as much as she does, they will be inspired.

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