by Jessica McElroy
We wanted a chance to highlight some of our residents who work behind-the-scenes in our community, those who are going above and beyond the call of duty to pour into our city and those around them. So, we asked you the readers for nominations. There are so many who are working diligently to stay connected to and improve this community it was difficult to narrow down. Way to show up, Burleson! We are excited to highlight a few special residents who are making a difference through their time and love for this community. Here are their stories.
Danyelle Day has been a Burleson resident for the majority of her life. She was born and raised in this community and when it came time to raise her kids, she knew this was the place she wanted to do that. Danyelle has run the office for her father’s business and raised two young men with her husband of 25 years. In her spare time, she works diligently to break the shame, stigma, and silence of domestic abuse. Among other roles, she currently serves as the Vice President for the Choose Courage Foundation – a national nonprofit that started right here in Burleson. What began as a friend’s photography project has become a way to shine light on victims that find themselves in the darkness that is domestic violence.
Danyelle first found herself involved with the photography project that became the Choose Courage Foundation when she met Rhonda Brunson, who eventually invited her to step out from behind the camera and in front of the lens – as a survivor. Danyelle spent some time really considering the proposal. She had not shared her story with many people, in fact very few knew anything about it at all. Her experience with domestic violence occurred in a relationship she had as a teenager. “Once I cracked that door open, I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t shut the door or put the lid back on the box. I had to deal with it.” After accepting Rhonda’s offer everything changed for her. “That photo shoot changed my life forever. I had to be involved.” She began by helping out with events and providing b-roll of photo shoots for other survivors. The photography sessions offered are completely free of charge to survivors of domestic violence. Recipients are gifted the clothes, shoes, and jewelry used during the shoot. They have their hair and makeup done and they get to spend several hours simply being served and pampered. The images are theirs to use, and a certain magic is said to occur when they step in front of that camera lens. It serves as a reminder that they are worthy; regardless of what has happened to them or where they may be in their journey, they have something to offer. They are appreciated for exactly who they are in that moment. They are seen.
Aside from serving as a photographer for these sessions, Danyelle’s experience as a teenager helped lead to the creation of the Teen Project. “When it happened to me it felt like such an odd, taboo place to be. It just wasn’t talked about.” As she was currently raising two teenage boys, she saw there was still a need within this age group to learn how to openly discuss these issues. The Teen Project is currently going into its 5th year and is comprised of local high schoolers that choose to volunteer their time and become advocates for domestic violence victims. They dig in to the hard topic with the teens and discuss what red flags and green flags might look like in a relationship; it’s just as important to learn what a healthy relationship looks like as it is to learn what warning signs to watch for. February, which happens to be teen dating violence awareness month, means a social media takeover by the teen volunteers, who create and share their own content on the Choose Courage social media pages.
With all of the growth the nonprofit has seen recently, there’s no plan to slow down yet. They are working harder than ever to spread their message as far as possible with hopes of growing their speaking engagements and a push to bring their message into the local schools as well. A big obstacle they’ve faced is spreading their message to areas where there are currently no organizations or very limited resources to direct survivors to, especially in some international locations where domestic violence is still simply accepted. Danyelle says: “We won’t quit. We will keep trying. There’s got to be a way.”
Danyelle’s work with the Choose Courage Foundation has brought the reality of her experience into focus for her sons, and allowed them a chance to get involved with the message and work behind the scenes as firsthand witnesses to the magic that happens when somebody steps in front of the camera and reclaims their self-worth. “The person I was five years ago and the person I am today are completely different. It’s been an amazing process to walk and heal through, and just to see how much of my life I spent feeling unworthy. I was very broken and I couldn’t even see it. I will probably always be on the journey to healing, but every time I watch another survivor experience this, I grow a little bit more. I heal a little bit more. Watching someone else have that same experience… it’s like a launching board.”
If you or someone you know are affected by domestic violence, we would like to remind you that you are never alone. The National Domestic Violence hotline is 1-800-799-7233. If you would like to connect with the Choose Courage Foundation they can be reached at 817-680-5044 or online at choosecourage.org.
You might know Sarah Carlson from her time spent working in the school system, or from her years as a photographer in the Burleson area. She also happens to run a very successful local group on Facebook – Municipal Matters of BTX. What started out as a project to help connect and provide information to the Burleson community about a rather tense local election in the middle of the pandemic, it has since morphed into a way to streamline information about city matters and opportunities in the area that often remain relatively unknown. The effort to streamline and highlight information from local businesses and each of the city’s seventeen different social media accounts is a true labor of love. “The goal is to get as many eyes on the information as possible by continuing to share, while also helping to boost their posts in the algorithms as well. The more people that have access to the information the more people can be involved.”
The group serves another purpose as well. By not shying away from hard topics and the efforts put in to maintain the group as a forum for productive discussion, it allows Burleson residents the chance to see what this community truly is – who it is comprised of, what their thoughts and questions are for this city, and what the community’s goals and desires are moving forward. With the massive growth Burleson has seen over the last several years it’s a good way to see the new perspectives and ideas that growth has brought. Oftentimes, a simple discussion is all we need to realize we really aren’t that different from each other. “We as a country are so polarized in seemingly everything. I can’t affect that on a national level but I can try to do so on a local level.”
Her work serving the community through this group has fostered interest and educational opportunities with her sons, and contributed to their homeschool curriculum. Her sons, who range in age from 9-16, are already very well informed on their city. They know who their city leaders are and have a very good understanding of civics and how their government works. Watching the city council meetings together breeds conversation and connection. Through Sarah’s work with this group, they have found some of their favorite things to do in this community – such as taking classes at Russell Farm, strolling through the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, or checking on and restocking the Blessing Boxes around town.
Community involvement is not new to the Carlson family, her husband William has served on the Old Town Design Review Board, the recent Bond Committee, and his family has owned a used car business in this area since the 80’s. In the trenches of motherhood with three young boys, one of whom falls on the Autism spectrum and another who is immune compromised, it was often difficult to involve herself or serve the community in a lot of the usual ways – especially with the challenges of the last couple of years. Running this Facebook group has allowed her to meet a need in the community while also meeting the needs of her family. “Being able to interact online is what allows me to be involved and serve my community in a way that isn’t as challenging for my family as it could be if I served in other ways.” She carries the hope that the group she dedicates so much time and effort to will provide the same opportunity as a service outlet and community connection that others in similar situations might be looking for. “Ultimately it is my hope that this effort helps our big community feel smaller. I hope it allows others to forge connections within our community.”
A self-titled “silent supporter” in our community – Mary Slaney is known and loved by many. Upon their joint retirement from the world of education, she and her husband moved to the Burleson area in the early 2000s. Since moving into their home near Old Town they have had a front row seat watching the space evolve as the years have passed. When asked about the choice of settling down in Burleson, she mentioned the desire for a small town feel and a diverse neighborhood, two desires which Burleson met. One day she realized that she had extra time on her hands, and decided to visit the Chamber of Commerce to offer her services as a volunteer – an offer they happily accepted. That volunteer work eventually led to a full-time job which she held for approximately eight years before taking a step back. Despite not working for the Chamber anymore, she stays incredibly involved in the community, and currently sits on the boards of Russell Farm as well as the Chamber of Commerce.
While acknowledging the growth and seemingly endless additions to the Burleson area over the years, Mary also mentioned the hope that Burleson – specifically Old Town – will stay quaint with more local shopping options. “Even with all of the changes and big-name additions, there are still opportunities for local entrepreneurs as well.” Mary runs the Historic Old Town Burleson Texas page on Facebook, a group that boasts 4.9k members. She uses it to help push out information on the happenings in Old Town. She says to new businesses looking to get their foot in the door: “Get involved. We have a lot of programs that will benefit business but they have to put in the effort to network and involve themselves in the community. When it comes time to make a purchase, people will always think of those they have a personal relationship with first. Those connections have to be built and they take effort. We also have a lot of really good charities doing work in the community. Volunteering might not be your cup of tea and maybe this one isn’t for you, but maybe the next one will be. There are so many ways to get involved here.”
Mary is also the founder of Power of Heels, the women’s division of the Chamber of Commerce. “When I worked for the Chamber, I noticed that so many of the boards in our community were made up of men. I also knew a lot of women were starting to really shine at this particular moment in history. I called around to various Chambers and they all seemed to have a Women’s division. I got together with a couple of our shining community members and we put out an ad in the paper, just to see if people were interested. They were. The building was full of women.” The Power of Heels became a group that showcases women-owned and operated businesses. Its purpose is to connect female business owners and give them the opportunity to learn from and with each other, and provides an excellent networking resource as well. She founded the group in 2007 and although she has since stepped back, she has thoroughly enjoyed watching and cheering on the incredible growth it has seen.
The year after stepping back from her work with the Chamber of Commerce, an award was named in Mary’s honor. The Mary Slaney Spirit Award is given to women in business who have really stood out in the community. “The recipients are all very special women – oftentimes silent supporters of their community. Many successful people are not loud about themselves or their work, but they are dynamic. These are the people who receive this award.” The honor is one that Mary would never seek, and she was shocked to receive such recognition for the countless contributions that she views simply as doing her part in a community she describes as incredibly giving. She expressed a very similar sentiment when asked how it felt to be nominated as a Hometown Hero. “I just volunteer when I can and when I’m around. I love this community.”
“I feel like my role in this world is a facilitator – I don’t feel like I’m any kind of hometown hero but I do feel like we have a lot of those here. Let me tell you about them.” Speaking to Daniel about his nomination as a hometown hero was challenging in the absolute best way. Instead of talking about anything he does, he only wants to shine a light on the amazing changes that so many others in our community are working hard to create not just locally but all around the world. “I’d like to highlight them. My job is just to help them do their thing. That’s what we are here for.”
Born and raised here in Burleson, Daniel joined the Navy at 18 where he served as a nuclear machinist’s mate for six years. When he returned home to Burleson with his wife Amber and their newborn daughter, he found a way to apply the hard-earned lessons he received through his service to the community here. “I joined as a kid who had a little too much personality and no work ethic. I came out of it as a guy who could do some stuff. I may not use any bit of the nuclear power knowledge I have, but I did learn how important it was to have a repeatable process and procedure, so your guys know exactly what it takes to be successful.” Through his and Amber’s hard work pouring into the growth of their family, and encouraging and working for the success of those around them, it’s easy to see that his self-chosen term of “facilitator” is spot-on.
Daniel’s passion for helping others meet their goals has created an incredible network that gives generously for many different causes. Some of his favorites to be involved with are Eagles Nest International, Hope Ignited, and the Noel Fund. Just before he joined the Navy, Daniel’s parents adopted his two younger brothers from Guatemala. He mentioned that at the time of his brothers’ adoption he was overwhelmed with the beauty of the country and the generosity of its people. After his time in the Navy, when he was back in Burleson raising his own family, he felt he was being led to join Terry and Tiffany McConnell on a trip back to the country that gave him his little brothers. He watched as the McConnells gave up their life in Texas to make a new one running the Eagle’s Nest Children’s Home in Guatemala and that is when he really felt his perspective shift and sought a way to help. Every year he helps facilitate this community’s coming together to fund Christmas for the children in the Eagle’s Nest home, and makes a trip each Fall to bring the Burleson-area generosity to the children in person. He’s even had the chance to bring his children on the trip over the years. “We all want to show our kids what it actually means to be generous and help others. And this community really is so generous.”
The spirit of service and effort from the Burleson community is highlighted again when he speaks about the work Adam and Rachel Jamison are doing in Africa, with the Hope Ignited foundation. They are currently in the process of building a pediatric care center in Guinea, Africa, while also facilitating the training of more pediatricians to further support their new community. “They tell me that Burleson is where they get the most support from,” he says. The Noel Fund, a local nonprofit whose aim is to ease the financial burden of international adoption, is a true labor of love spearheaded by the Choate and Weathers families. Daniel works to bring his network together to help raise money for these incredible organizations – one of his favorite fundraisers being a Prince Tribute show which includes musicians from all over the DFW area and benefits the Noel Fund. He says “It’s easy to see so much of the ugly stuff on social media, but behind the scenes there are just a lot of amazing people that help out and don’t want to be the center of attention, so you don’t hear about them often. But they are there.”
Yes, Daniel. They certainly are.