Helping Children Flourish
From 1979 to 1981, Gretchen Dykstra, who had been trained as a teacher, taught modern American and British literature at a teachers college in central China—one of the first Americans invited to teach in China when the nation reopened after the Cultural Revolution. It was shortly after her return to the U.S. that Gretchen first became involved with Save the Children by sponsoring a little girl in Nepal.
Several years later, Gretchen was planning a trip with a friend to Nepal and arranged through Save the Children to meet her sponsored child. They drove for hours and then walked up and down the endless, verdant foothills of the Himalayas before reaching the compound where the little girl and her family lived. "We spent the night on their stone pallet bed; it was a wonderful visit," Gretchen said. "I walked away impressed with the Save the Children and touched by all that my sponsored child had learned." Gretchen was so impressed, in fact, that she wrote about her trip and her Save the Children sponsorship in an article for the New York Times travel section.
Gretchen continued her support of Save the Children while pursuing a high-profile career in New York City. She was the founding president of the Times Square Business Improvement District throughout the 1990's and then went on to serve as the commissioner of New York City's Department of Consumer Affairs under Mayor Bloomberg. She left that post in April 2005 to become the founding president and CEO of the 9/11 Memorial Foundation.
Gretchen had become involved in the AIDS crisis early on in New York and served as a Board member at the Gay Men's Health Crisis. It was not surprising then that she became the founder of Save the Children's HIV/AIDS Leadership Council. She lobbied internally for a robust response to the pandemic and is proud today of Save the Children's community-based work on behalf of vulnerable children. Gretchen herself spent a summer as a volunteer at an AIDS orphanage in Uganda where she wrote the business plan and raised the funds for a now-successful restaurant in Masaka that supports the orphanage.
In all, Gretchen has made more than ten trips to visit Save the Children programs, including a trip to war-torn Iraq in 2010. "On every trip I walk away blown away by the field staff and the quality of the work," she states. "I was always touched by the programs, but I am equally impressed by the rigor of measuring outcomes," she said.
Ms. Dykstra served four terms as a Trustee of Save the Children and also served on the Global Education Advisory Committee. She continues to sponsor a child in Nepal.
Gretchen considers planned giving a natural progression in her relationship with Save the Children. She said, "When I began to think about my own will, I asked myself who does good work and who can I trust? I am happy to include Save the Children as a way to express my commitment to children and my confidence in the organization. Without children of my own, putting Save the Children in my will makes perfect sense, too. I want all children to flourish."