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Thank You, Denise!

For the past 25 years, Denise Tredwell has been Friends of Karen’s Volunteer Coordinator. Among her responsibilities, Denise has managed the gift programs, including Back-to-School, holiday Adopt-a-Family, and birthdays. She has worked with hundreds of wonderful people of all ages and backgrounds who generously give their time and talents in a multitude of ways to benefit the children and families Friends of Karen serves. Denise knows how much this help matters because she was a Friends of Karen family when her son Josh was in treatment for a brain tumor. She has inspired countless volunteers with her passion for the mission and special understanding of the impact our support has on a family. Denise retired at the end of January, after wrapping up the 2023 holiday Adopt-a-Family program that filled the wish lists of 848 children. Looking back at her Friends of Karen career, she shared these reflections.


Connections: Who introduced you to Friends of Karen? How were you helped?

Denise: My sister found Friends of Karen for us. Josh was seven years old when we moved to Brewster. He had relapsed and we needed assistance. Susan Downes, then the Friends of Karen social worker, was beyond helpful. She got us equipment for Josh when he was in hospice care and arranged for important therapy to help us understand and cope with Josh’s illness. We even went to a special camp that was wonderful for Josh’s little sister, Sarah. Susan was always there to help us, no matter what we needed.

After Josh passed away in 1990, my husband Bruce and I, along with Sarah, participated in Friends of Karen’s bereavement group. This turned out to be an amazing experience for us. I did not expect all the ways Friends of Karen supported us during this difficult time.

Connections: How did you transition from a “family” to an employee?

Denise: I had a job I loved at a project management firm when Susan Downes called to ask whether I would consider becoming the Volunteer Coordinator at Friends of Karen. How could I say no? That was in July 1998. The rest is history.

Connections: How did your experience as a family influence your work with volunteers?

Denise: Having been on the receiving end of Friends of Karen’s support, I was committed to making our help meaningful to the children and their families. I love that Friends of Karen isn’t a plain vanilla organization. We tailor our support to the needs of each family. I try to know each child as an individual by keeping track of what they like so their birthday or holiday gifts are what they want. I always express my appreciation to our volunteers to let them know how important their efforts are to Friends of Karen families. We can’t do it all without them!

Connections: In 25 years, how have things changed? Are there some memorable moments?

Denise: Our volunteers are as kind, compassionate and giving as ever. They always ask what they can do. We have three generations of volunteers in some families. Our volunteers are the best.

It’s the work that has changed most. Years ago, we needed volunteers to do huge mailings four times a year. They enjoyed the camaraderie of getting together and talking about Friends of Karen. Believe it or not, some of these volunteers are still involved, but now, most people are too busy working or pursuing other interests, so they want shortterm commitments. We’re working with more corporate groups that request a group project like putting together birthday bags or camp sacks for the children, or comfort bags for parents when they are with their hospitalized child.

My most memorable occasions were the annual Volunteer Recognition Dinners when we brought together volunteers of all ages. It was fun to recognize each person or group and applaud their efforts. We haven’t held a dinner since the pandemic. Hopefully they will be revived in the future.


Connections: Are there words of wisdom you’d like to share?

Denise: I always say Friends of Karen is the glue that held my family together. They had our backs and held us up. I can never repay Friends of Karen for what they did for my family. After 25 years, no matter how challenging my day at the office, when I walk out Friends of Karen’s door, I always feel so good about what we did for the families.

Connections: Denise, enjoy your well-earned retirement!