Suzanne Yerdon Lewandowski has been selected by AARP, the nonprofit organization for people 50 and older, to receive the 2016 AARP Massachusetts Andrus Award for Community Service — the Association’s most prestigious and visible state volunteer award for community service.
AARP Massachusetts selected Lewandowski for her remarkable service, which greatly benefited her community, supported AARP’s vision and mission, and inspired other volunteers.
Lewandowski, a full time administrative assistant at Assumption College in Worcester, has long been an enthusiastic and active contributor to the betterment of the North Brookfield community where she lives. Lewandowski developed the North Brookfield Substance Abuse Task Force, represents Worcester County on the MA Commission on the Status of Women, and founded the North Brookfield Hearts for Heat Emergency Fuel Program, a local non-profit which has provided emergency fuel assistance to 10 to 20 families annually since 2009. And these are just a few of her accomplishments as a volunteer.
Andrus Award History
Named for founder Ethel Percy Andrus, the AARP Andrus Award for Community Service is given annually to one outstanding volunteer in every state. A selection committee evaluates nominees based on a range of criteria, including how their volunteer work positively impacts the lives of individuals 50 and over, how their work improves the community, and how they inspire others to volunteer. To be eligible for the award, the accomplishments, achievements or service on which the nomination is based must have been performed on a volunteer basis, without pay and reflect AARP’s vision and mission.
A Personal Struggle Yields Service to Others
In 2012, inspired by her own 25-year battle with bulimia, Lewandowski founded the Massachusetts Eating Disorders Collaborative. Her positive impact on the community came after her personal struggles with bulimia, alcoholism, and a youth marred by tragedy. Lewandowski is very open about her life story — and the ways she recovered from her past struggles — in the hopes that others can benefit from her wisdom and experience. She became sober in 1993, and then beat her eating disorder in 1999.
Yerdon Lewandowski’s past addictions hampered her ability to experience growth and see the future the way others do, she said, which stunted her ability to move forward in a strategic way. She describes her recovery as akin to a jigsaw puzzle.
"You start where it’s easiest, sorting pieces by boundaries and colors. You try the same pieces over and over again, to no avail, and eventually understand that the picture will only become clear if you try different pieces.”
- Suzanne Yerdon Lewandowski
For Yerdon Lewandowski, a whole new world opened up when she began to volunteer.
“Volunteering is [also] like a puzzle, because it gives you the chance to use your talents where they work best and not feel pressure. You can meet new people, learn new skills, broaden your social life, and contribute to shared successes. When I started with the North Brookfield Parent Teacher Organization (PTA) in 2003, I felt immense pressure,” she said. ”I knew people were counting on me, and my fear of failure was intense. I learned to multitask. I created a web page and newsletters, and used my creative abilities, and for the first time in my recovery, my brain was not focused on food.”
Thoughts on Volunteering
Yerdon Lewandowski offers this advice to volunteers: “Take time off for yourself. Volunteering means you can be all you can be, at your own pace.” She adds, “Every piece of the puzzle is fluid. Social collaboration is a network of angels who want to help. Even if I don’t know the answer to something, I know who I can call on when I need information. Everyone has something to contribute.”
By all accounts, Yerdon Lewandowski’s community contributions will be felt for years to come. Her boundless enthusiasm and tireless volunteer efforts will continue to make a positive impact on everyone around her.