Making a Personal Connection

Rochelle BurnettRochelle Burnett is a Realtor and Coach at Keller Williams Realty and serves on the Easter Seals Iowa Board of Directors.

At the Easter Seals Iowa Annual Celebration three years ago, I had an immediate connection with client John Bivans. John was being recognized with the Independence Award for overcoming so many obstacles and achieving independence in his life. John shared about his experience as a child in the foster care system, then as a young adult who struggled with drugs and homelessness, and then finally found Easter Seals Iowa and had the support he needed to turn his life around.
A foster mom myself, I knew first-hand the challenges that come from broken homes and navigating the foster care system. The idea of becoming a foster parent truly came to me in a dream. My husband Doug and I did it for ten years. Throughout that time we had many children who came and went quickly but also two long-term placements, and we continue to stay close to those now-young adults today. I even get to be a foster grandma because our foster daughter is now a mom herself. She’s been releasing chapters of a book about her experience in the foster care system at

So, hearing John’s story brought me back to the challenges one overcomes in the system. As Easter Seals Iowa Board Chair at the time, I was charged with shaking John’s hand and getting a photo taken with him after he received his award. Suffice to say, my eyes are a little teary in the photo! _DSC9653

I was so inspired by John’s story, that I wanted others to be inspired too. I am a real estate agent with Keller Williams, and I’ve recently started coaching the new agents in the office. As agents new to the industry, I wanted them to hear from John about how they too could overcome challenges with accountability and determination.

John talked about learning from and listening to others. He considers each person he meets and each lesson he learns, another tool in his toolbox and another stepping stone to get him where he wants to go. John said, “Your past cannot affect you to your future. You make your determination,” which is a pretty powerful statement. He had the agents share why they decided to get into real estate. Common themes throughout the room were: being able to help people, wanting to give back, and working for myself. John looks at the world in black and white, no gray area. You choose to be successful and follow through or not. There’s no middle ground, only success or failure. IMG_3521

John now advocates for others. He spent many years advocating for children in the foster care system. He now advocates for adults with disabilities, saying he hopes to help give them a voice. John is also studying at Grand View University to be a social worker and give back what he says he received from social workers in his life, including his case managers at Easter Seals Iowa. IMG_3525

I believe you get back in this world what you give. Those who give, do receive. I believe you have to give in this world what you expect to get out of this world. I’m always balancing work and life with a passion for giving. What Easter Seals Iowa is doing, supporting clients like John, is something bigger than what I do every day. I am proud to support Easter Seals Iowa, and I am proud to have developed a relationship with John and watch all he has accomplished.

You can learn more about John and his journey in this video.


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