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One act of kindness leads to another

University of Wisconsin-Superior junior Taylor Burm smiles outside the Telegram office on Friday. Burm, a Superior High School graduate, received an anonymous scholarship that will pay the rest of her undergraduate tuition. Now, she hopes to pass that kindness on. (Maria Lockwood)

An unexpected windfall has one University of Wisconsin-Superior student paying it forward with the currency of kindness. The year ended with a bang and shock for Taylor Burm. The UWS junior was handed a life-altering scholarship. An anonymous donor stepped forward to pay for the rest of her undergraduate education to the tune of about $12,000.

“Things like this can change everything,” said Burm, a 2012 Superior High School alum. There were two strings attached: She had to concentrate on good grades, and she had to give back.

“In the next days, months, and years to come, I will be doing projects and writing to make my story made, to change other people’s lives like this is changing mine,” Burm wrote on the Facebook site Superior, WI Random Acts of Kindness. The site is the first step in her kindness campaign.

“Just so people see there are really good people out there who do extraordinary things,” she said.

To date, the page has more than 300 likes and a handful of stories from those who have given and those who have received. Travelling home from a funeral, someone’s gas tank was filled Sunday by an anonymous donor. One woman went to pay her restaurant bill a couple weeks ago and found a stranger had already paid for it.

Another woman placed a $10 bill on the table to pay for a stranger’s meal at Subway. When he asked why, she told him it must be his lucky day and went about her business.

“This is transferrable,” said Burm, a writing major who made the dean’s list last semester. “This amazing feel-good that I’m feeling can be spread through the community.”

The donation tracks back to Pilgrim Lutheran Church. Pastor Will Mowchan first approached Angie Hugdahl, coordinator of the UWS Upward Bound program, about finding a candidate for the gift.

“The people behind it want to give back to Superior,” he said. “They want to give a hand up to someone like Taylor who will make it and help others in their own right.”

When Hugdahl introduced the two, Mowchan realized he knew Burm from when she worked at East End Super One Foods. “She went out of her way to be warm and gracious but genuine, too,” Mowchan said. “I was thrilled to see her. I thought it would be a grand slam right here.”

Hugdahl has known Burm since she was accepted into Upward Bound as a high school freshman. The program provides first-generation and potentially low-income students skills to become successful through high school and into college. “She doesn’t take things lightly, she’s so thankful for everything she gets,” Hugdahl said of Burm. The college junior is resourceful, self-driven leader. “And she’s so inclusive. She’s got a big heart.” Along with the website, Burm has started writing a journal for the donors. She also plans to provide “anonymous” food baskets to Pilgrim Lutheran Church.

People would be able to nominate a recipient they think could use it. She will also be writing a monthly column for the Superior Telegram to highlight the kindnesses reported on her site.

Now a waitress at Grizzly’s Restaurant, Burm sees first-hand the joy that a random act of kindness like paying for someone’s bill can do.

“Their reaction is just crazy,” she said. “They look at each other, smile and say ‘Is this really happening to me.’”

The scholarship left her with all that and more.

“So much about the anonymity blows my mind,” she said. “It’s the people who drive ordinary cars and wear ordinary clothes that do extraordinary things.” Even though she doesn’t know the people who gifted her with the scholarship, Burm wants others to. “They don’t want recognition,” she said. “I want to do everything in my power to recognize them.”