By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Hudson – Zenaide “Zee” Swenson is best known in her hometown of Hudson as director of Andrew’s Helpful Hands (AHH). The nonprofit organization serves as a living legacy for her son, who passed away of leukemia at age 7 in 2002. Now, she hopes to share her experience as a community leader in her new role as the esteemed lecturing knight of Hudson-Concord Elks Lodge #959 in its fraternal year of 2016-2017.
“The Elks have always helped my son’s organization,” she noted. “I became a member to help out the community when I can and give back to the Elks.”
Swenson joined the Elks three years ago. In 2014, the Hudson-based lodge named her Citizen of the Year. Each lodge is encouraged to recognize someone who contributes to improving their local community. Swenson feels that her beliefs are compatible with the organization’s motto “Elks care, Elks share.”
“I love to share ideas,” she said. “I used to be on nine different nonprofit boards. I got to the point where I wanted to focus more locally again. I want to share whatever knowledge I have from my own fundraising efforts with others so that everybody can be successful.”
She already feels comfortable in her new role with the Elks.
“This position of lecturing knight exemplifies the spirit of brotherly love,” she said. “It’s appropriate for me because I just want everybody to get along and be friends. You’d be amazed how far a little bit of kindness goes.”
Swenson is grateful for the help she received when her son Andrew was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 2 and developed testicular cancer at 4. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments, then required a bone marrow transplant. She quit her job and lived with him at the hospital. Among the mounting bills were mortgage payments.
Her brother, John Sousa, organized a fundraiser in 2000 to help keep her family home. In 2001, AHH became a nonprofit organization that pays mortgage or rent payments for families with a child undergoing the bone marrow transplant process.
Swenson recalls her hospitalized young son’s reaction to hearing his family’s plan to reach out to others.
“Andrew said, ‘I can help – I have a lot of time on my hands,’” she relayed.
His high-five handprint became the logo for AHH. A year later, Andrew lost his battle to leukemia. His spirit of helpfulness continues.
“Our goal is to give parents time to focus on their child and not worry about bills,” Swenson explained. “We’ve helped 49 families stay in their homes. We take over mortgage payments for a whole year. We pay on average $20,000 per family.”
The organization also conducts drives to increase the number of donors on the International Bone Marrow Transplant Registry. When Andrew was undergoing the bone marrow transplant process only one match was found worldwide, Swenson noted.
“I told Andrew that I’d get as many people on the registry as I can,” she recalled. “By his 10th anniversary he would have been 17, so I wanted to get 17,000 people on the registry. I achieved over 32,000.”
AHH will participate in the Hudson Sesquicentennial Parade in September. A donated boat will be decorated as a float with a unique theme.
“We’ll have several bone marrow donors on the float, and I’m hoping to get more of our kids who have survived on there, too,” Swenson explained. “Volunteers will walk alongside the boat with life preservers because we’re like lifesavers helping families.”
In the meantime, the organization will raise awareness for its cause Saturday, June 11, with a booth at the annual Hudson Community Fest.
“I love the Hudson community!” Swenson exclaimed.
For information about AHH, visit andrewshelpfulhands.com.