HUDSON— For 21 years, Andrew’s Helpful Hands has helped families with children who are being treated for bone marrow transfers and aiding them to pay their mortgages and utilities.
On Saturday, Dec. 2, the organization will have its final winter fundraiser, the Gold Ribbon Holiday Reception at the Hudson Portuguese Club at 6 p.m.
It is a semiformal event, due to the love of the organization’s namesake for dressing up. Andrew Swenson had five tuxedos by age 7, his mother Zenaide Swenson said.
While they will continue to raise money for families, it will be with smaller events.
Zenaide Swenson, co-founder with her late brother John Sousa, said, “My hope was that we could at least hit 400 in attendance. That’s my goal because I want to end it in a bang. I want to do a mic drop: Boom, we did this.”
Doing the Gold Ribbon Holiday Reception, for which 280 tickets have been sold, is something she loves to do, but it has gotten harder to put together. Thanks to people like Richard Tomenek at Embassy Suites for 18 years, it has worked, but Swenson is focusing on events like band and comedy nights and craft fairs.
“It’s going to be stuff that I can manage on my own with my mom,” said Swenson.
Andrew’s Helpful Hands
Andrew’s Helpful Hands is named after Swenson’s son Andrew. He was born July 27, 1995, and by his second birthday was diagnosed with leukemia. By his fourth, he was undergoing bone marrow transplant treatment.
The family faced an increasing pile of hospital bills, and Andrew just wanted to come home after battling cancer for five years. Sousa gathered friends and family to help them pay their mortgage and keep their home.
Andrew’s Helpful Hands was born when the young boy decided he wanted to help others the same way people helped the Swensons.
He died on his seventh birthday, but through the organization still makes an impact on others. After Sousa died in 2019, Swenson said, “They are both together.”
Swenson, who has lived in Hudson for 50 years, said the Hudson community was “amazing” when they were going through Andrew’s bone marrow transplant and struggling. They had taught their sons, Jonathan Swenson, 30, who is now the treasurer of AHH, and Andrew to be good to people and help others.
According to Swenson, the desire to help prompted Andrew to want to raise money for others. When Sousa said that it “was a lot of work,” Andrew answered, “That’s OK. I’ve got time.”
Andrew’s Helpful Hands pays mortgages or rent to families for up to 12 months. It has paid on average about $20,000 per family, and it has helped 60 families since April 2002.
With the advent of Gofundme pages and other fundraising sources, she said AHH is not as needed as it had once been, so they shifted to covering smaller costs for people.
“We’ve raised the money, and the goal is to make less stress for the parents,” said Swenson.
Andrew’s Helpful Hands is a good way to remember Andrew, whose handprint is the organization’s logo, because “when he was alive, he literally had his hand in helping get this started,” Swenson said.
“I had to turn something so negative into a positive, not for myself but for my whole family,” she added.
It has helped her son Jonathan get involved and do good things in Andrew’s memory.
Andrew once told his mother, “You have to help friends that I don’t know.” He helped give the first check to a Hudson family many years ago.
She hopes the organization helps families achieve financial freedom. The one thing she knows is they are getting time with their children and making memories in a tough time by relieving a financial burden.
She added, “I give those families memories. So good or bad – they’re there.”
Even when things were bad for Andrew, you could “always joke around” and lighten the mood, she said. She remembered getting yelled at for Andrew riding his tricycle at the hospital, but she said, “He needs to play.”
Swenson said they never assumed Andrew would not make it and had hope, so she treated him as normally as she could. She treated him like any other little boy, even when he misbehaved. For five years, the Swensons spent time in hospitals, but they were still a family.
She added, “That’s the key. You know, you’re still a family. You stick as a family.”
Hence, the need to come home to one’s house, which Andrew’s Helpful Hands makes possible. She said it is “not OK” for these children to have to go home to a new place on top of fighting to get better.
“All these kids, all they want to do is they want to go home,” said Swenson. “They want to go to their home.”
She added, “We make sure that they go home to their home.”