Katie Fretwell Reflects on Over Ten Years as a Volunteer for the Community Foundation

In celebration of National Volunteer Week, we spoke to one of the Community Foundation’s long-serving volunteers, Katie Fretwell. 

Katie first began her volunteer service for the Community Foundation as a scholarship reviewer ten years ago. In 2018, she joined the Education Committee. She still serves in both capacities today. 

Community Foundation Volunteer Katie Fretwell

Katie is the former Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Amherst College, where she worked for 30 years and was instrumental in launching programs to increase diversity in the College’s recruitment and to ensure that low-income, high-achieving students’ found a path to graduation at the same rate as their peers. 

Before that, she worked in admissions at Williams College.

She has a wealth of knowledge surrounding college enrollment services as she has worked in both Admission and Financial Aid positions.

Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and why you decided to volunteer and support the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts?

My career has been entirely in education, primarily working in the transition from secondary school to higher education with students. 

I’ve worked as a college guidance counselor in high school, but mostly in the area of college admission and financial aid. So that has been my career’s trajectory. I’m currently retired so I can give a little more time to the Community Foundation which is great. 

Ten or eleven years ago I was contacted about joining the scholarship committee and I jumped at the chance because I had heard so much positive feedback about what the Foundation was doing. 

I knew a few people who had joined the team there and the idea of participating in scholarship selection that was focused entirely on my local community was very exciting. My career had been spent working mostly with colleges that were international in their ambitions. So the chance to really hunker down and be attentive to students coming from my own backyard exclusively was really exciting to me. So I jumped at that chance.

The work you have done for the Community Foundation has impacted a lot of people in a very positive way. What has the impact been on you as a volunteer?

I’d like to believe that I am helping the Community Foundation make the difference that they have set out to make, which is to strengthen and serve our local communities.

So for me personally, being able to join a team in this way that has the same values, commitments, and priorities that I did personally, was just wonderful. They aligned very well with my own. 

This has been a really wonderful opportunity for me. I feel like I’m contributing to the greater effort of the Foundation in very tangible ways. I enjoy working with other people who have the same set of values and sentiments. It’s a really great group of people to spend time with. 

Everybody is on board with what the Foundation is doing or they wouldn’t be committing their time and energy. So that brings me joy as well. 

For someone who might be interested in supporting the Foundation’s work, but isn’t quite decided, do you have any words of encouragement or advice?

One way an individual curious about the Community Foundation could get to know its power and innovation in a very meaningful way would be to take a look at the way the Foundation responded to the pandemic because they made some really remarkable pivots to serve the emerging needs that came out of that crisis. 

It meant they had to not only reorganize how they did their work in the Foundation—we all understand that challenge—but also because the needs of the community were changing. And they were so immediate that the Foundation was just a perfect example of how they kept their finger on the pulse of the community and what the most immediate needs were going to be and if it was food, if it was shelter, if it was a grant to tide someone over to a better circumstance, they were attentive to all those things and were very quick in responding. 

So that is a good example of how the foundation doesn’t just say, well, we’ve got these programs, anyone can keep doing them. They are innovating all the time. And they take what they do responsibly.

You have worked in education for many years. How important do you think this sort of work is in ensuring access to learning?

It has never been more important. The threatening rising cost of higher education is scaring some of the lowest and middle-income families away from even the possibility of going to college. 

For those who are pursuing post-secondary education and for those who do not have a college-going tradition in their families, it’s almost impossible to imagine college, especially for those in precarious financial situations. 

Knowing that there’s this kind of support is going to give people hope, and it clearly has. That’s why there are people who are seeking loans and scholarships from the Foundation.

Is there any final information that you’d like to share that would be useful for would-be volunteers?

I think anyone considering volunteering can learn a great deal by taking a look at the [Community Foundation] website to see the many tentacles of the foundation and how they reach into the community in different ways. My thing is education and another person’s thing might be business or the arts. There are lots of ways to get involved in the goal of making our community stronger. 

I will just add that the people who are working on the staff are really a remarkable group of committed people and generous in their support to individual volunteers. And again, I go back to the pandemic. We couldn’t come together in person, so Zoom was our tool. Despite this, their ability to keep us all connected was really impressive. And that’s because of the kind of people they are, the kind of values they have, and what they hope to accomplish as an organization.

Interested in volunteering?

To express your interest, send a general inquiry to bwales@communityfoundation.org.