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Who's Who: Andrea Swenson, Career Volunteer

The Arthur Hecht Volunteer of the Year has two decades of fund-raising and organizing under her belt.

Name: Andrea Swenson

Occupation: Mom, volunteer chair of the Giving Campaign for Piedmont Schools 

Age: 53

Traveling takes a distant third place behind Andrea Swenson's two main passions:  fundraising and organizing. 

Since she moved to Piedmont nearly 20 years ago with her young family, Swenson has been active in helping the schools maintain and improve the programs that make Piedmont's among the best in the state. This year, with devastating cuts to education from the state government, the role of local fundraising by parent volunteers has moved from auxiliary to critical.

Swenson was honored by the Piedmont school board May 11 as this year’s Arthur Hecht Volunteer of the Year Award for her tireless commitment to the Giving Campaign for Piedmont Schools.

What are some of the school organizations you’ve volunteered for?

Starting with my daughter’s kindergarten class, I have been active in or president of every class’s parent group for both my children, Lucy and Sam, all the way through.

I worked on the SCRIP Campaign, which sells gift certificates to businesses. Three years ago, I co-chaired “Every Fifteen Minutes,” a teen drunk driving disincentive program, with Ann Marie Lamarche. I’m the president of CHIME (Citizens Highly Interested in Music Education), I’ve been on site councils, and I’ve been chair of the annual Giving Campaign for the last two years. 

How old are your children, and where are they now?

My daughter Lucy, 19, is in her second year at Wellesley, and my son Sam, 17,  is about to graduate and will attend Macalester College in St. Paul next fall.

Now that your children are officially out of the Piedmont Schools, will you still be an active volunteer?

Oh, yes. You don’t get paid for volunteering, but you get to make your own hours. I will continue working on the Education Foundation board. 

What kind of work did you do before becoming a “professional” volunteer?

I was involved in finance. I’m also an organized person, compulsively organized.

What do you like best about volunteering for the Piedmont schools?

You end up working with a lot of smart parents and teachers and administrators who are all working for the same goal. 

There’s this education funding crisis in California. The schools aren’t going to survive if we just depend on money we get from the state. There’s a lot of work for people who want to get involved. You can become involved in fundraising, or being on a parent board, and you get to decide how money gets allocated. If you don’t like fundraising, you can get involved in throwing events.  There are tons of things. “Every 15 Minutes” is in many schools, usually run by volunteers.

You are passionate about volunteering, especially for education. Why?

Well, I also volunteer for other organizations—I’m on the Board of the League of Women Voters. But because of so many cutbacks from the state, schools depend on outside volunteers to take up the slack in the programs. And because of all the fundraising done by everyone—not just me, but all the volunteers—Piedmont still has services other schools don’t have, like librarians, music, art, and aides in classrooms. 

How important are the funds raised by volunteers?

Sixty percent of Piedmont homeowners don’t have kids in the schools, but still pay parcel taxes, and Piedmont parcel taxes are high. That funds a huge percentage of the school budget. The state funds about 70 percent, and the other 30 percent is raised locally, mostly by volunteer projects and campaigns.

How did you get interested in volunteering?

I went to Barnard College in New York City, and have history and literature degrees. I got married, and was lucky enough not to have to work, although I worked in finance until I had children. I fell into this, but we’re modeling for our kids. I don’t know if times have changed, but we really need volunteers now.

Sounds like this is your legacy mission.

My children are following in my footsteps. My daughter is studying  psychology and economics, and my son seems to be interested in history and literature. 

What’s the volunteer community like?

The community is appreciative—everybody is appreciative of everybody else. 

It’s fun because things are never the same, things change all the time. If you say yes, you’ll always have something to do. Some people like to organize, some like to work at events. You get to spend your days with smart people who have similar goals.

At this point, we’re saving the programs, with all the cutbacks, to make sure that kids entering kindergarten will have the same programs my kids did. School funding just keeps going down. So fundraising keeps going up.

Most communities can’t devote enough volunteer time and energy to raise 30 percent of the school budget. We have things that most schools cut years ago. 

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