Tom Burtzlaff, president and owner of CMIT Solutions in Columbia, is a member of the Leadership Premier Class of 2013. With a long career as a manufacturing executive in the cosmetics industry, Burtzlaff’s business is now focused on the technology needs of small businesses in the Baltimore-Washington metro area.
Today, he is on the board of directors of MakingChange and is chair of the Leadership U (LU) Mentoring program as part of the Leadership U Steering Committee. He not only provides training and guidance for the adult volunteer mentors, but also volunteers each year to mentor a team of students.
Mentors are an integral part of the Leadership U program, guiding the students as they create a community service project and providing perspective as the students learn to navigate the world of nonprofits and teamwork. He shared some of his mentoring insights from the past four years.
How long have you been an LU Mentor and how did you get involved?
I became a mentor in 2013 and have done it for four years and counting. When I finished Leadership Premier 2013, we were challenged to “take our place” in our community. Having four children (who are now grown), I remembered how the teenage years were the most challenging and the most rewarding. I realized that this would be a perfect place for me to give back as an LU mentor.
What has been your most interesting community service project?
One year, the LU team of students collected hundreds of bags of food from the community and brought it all to the Grassroots on a Saturday morning. The entire lobby of the homeless shelter was covered with bags of food. It was quite a sight.
What surprises you most about the LU students?
These teenagers are so naïve and idealistic in equal measure. It is a great combination because they just focus on how to help people in the community. The purity of that mission generates enthusiasm, learning and pride from these students.
What have you learned about yourself from your student project team?
Being a teenager today is just like being a teenager in past years. It is the necessary transition from being a child to becoming an adult. I am totally confident when it is their time to “run the world,” they will do a fantastic job. I love my job as a mentor because I can help them by being a positive influence.
If you could teach the students one lesson, what would it be?
Learning to help those around you, who are in need, is a key part of being a human. It really does make the world a better place for everyone.
What advice would you give to a first-year LU mentor?
Listen, listen, then listen some more. When it is time, ask them questions to expand their thinking. The success of the LU experience is that the community projects belong to the student teams completely. Sure, they make mistakes or miss a detail. But we learn best when we struggle. Give these teens a chance to surprise you with their passion and drive to help our community.
In the fall of 2016, Burtzlaff mentored the LU EC-ology team. The EC-ology team wanted to educate residents on how to prevent another flood like the one in Ellicott City. The students designed a game to educate citizens about flood prevention techniques and handed out flyers to tell people simple things to do to help Ellicott City. The team set up an information table at Party in the Pit, an Ellicott City fundraiser at Merriweather Post Pavilion, and also set up an information table at the Miller Library.