Teacher's lifetime of deeds done early

By: ASHLEY LOPES Features Writer

MIDDLEBORO - You get what you give.

This is a phrase Lorna Brunelle knows well, especially with her selection for the Middleboro Rotary Club's 19th "Person of the Year Vocational Excellence Award," in recognition of her contributions to the community.

"I thought it was a joke at first, but when I realized it wasn't I just thought it was so weird," said Brunelle, 36.

It was weird because Brunelle, founder and owner of the Burt Wood School of Performing Arts, is the youngest recipient the committee has chosen for the honor.

But she has already accomplished more than many people do in their lifetime, serving as an example to her students and helping open the public's eye to what can be done if you set your mind to it.
Last year, Brunelle volunteered with her mother at Camp Edwards, on the Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod, where they helped displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina as part of Operation Helping Hand. It was therapy for Brunelle, who was coping with her own personal battles at the time: She was recovering from thyroid cancer, and her uncle had just died of cancer.

"We felt lost," said Brunelle, who had surgery for her cancer in February 2005. "We were looking for something positive to do together, which is when we decided to volunteer."

Her time at camp changed her life, even as she was changing the lives of others.

"I was coming off of the worst time in my life and they inspired me and made me count my blessings," said Brunelle, who made many friends and shared many stories in her two-month stay. "It was such a rewarding experience for me."

She made a full recovery from cancer and became a spokeswoman for thyroid cancer awareness, focusing her efforts on educating and comforting those who face the disease today.
"When I was diagnosed I felt very alone and confused," said Brunelle, who knew very little about thyroid cancer at the time because there were so few resources on it. "There was nothing for me to read to make me feel better. I was in the dark.

"Thyroid cancer is one of the scariest cancers to be diagnosed with, especially as a singer," she said.
Doctors told her she would never be able to sing again, but Brunelle refused to accept it.
She still sings.

Using her original daily recovery journal, she is also touching up a chronicle of everything that happened to her since she had surgery.

While it can help tell others what to expect from thyroid cancer, the book also served as a wonderful form of therapy for Brunelle.

"It was a place for me to purge my thoughts and write about everything that was concerning me or scaring me," Brunelle said. "It helped me a lot, and hopefully it will help others."
Brunelle is also involved in the Children's Chernobyl Project, an organization that takes kids out of regions of Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine still contaminated from the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster and brings them to the United States during summers.

And, of course, she still teaches at and runs her school.

When Brunelle graduated from the Boston Conservatory in 1995, she was a voice teacher at several local schools before founding the Burt Wood School - named after the benefactor whose scholarship got her into the conservatory.

The school, which began with only 20 students, has grown significantly. It now has more than 300 students and 11 classrooms for lessons in voice, musical theater, acting, pageant preparation and piano instruction.

Brunelle and her Burt Wood kids have organized a fundraiser for police officers and their families in need of community support and have recorded and sold "Hear Our Song," a CD to raise money for the Todd M. Beamer Foundation, set up for the children who lost parents on 9/11.
"We are not just a performing arts school, we are a life school," Brunelle said. "There is a whole new generation of people gaining awareness on how to be active in their community. That is the best part of my job."

Brunelle will be honored with her award at 6 p.m. Friday at the Fireside Grille.
Anyone who wishes to attend can call Rotary member Dan Medeiros at (508) 743-0901 or Ellen Grant at (508) 947-2148. Tickets are $30, and reservations should be made today.



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