Monday profile: Dawna Dowdell
If you’ve ever volunteered for anything in Alameda, there’s a good chance you’ve rubbed elbows with Dawna Dowdell. Dowdell volunteers with the police department. She’s at the polls handing out ballots on Election Day. She helps out at various breast cancer walks, including an annual trek for a walk in San Diego that she calls her “vacation.” And this year she’s president of Kiwanis, a local service organization that helps our community in all kinds of ways. She’s the kind of person no community can survive without. Why does she do it? Read on.
How did you get your start volunteering?
I started off with the American Cancer Society in 1994. I had a cousin diagnosed with liver cancer and she had one week from the day she was diagnosed to the day she passed. And I said, something’s got to change. I don’t know if she was quiet about her illness or what. But people need to be educated and they need to talk. My big thing is breast cancer awareness, and people need to talk. Also, my dad was very active in the city. He was past president of Rotary and the Chamber (of Commerce). When he retired, he said, ‘You’ve got to keep the Dowdell name going.’
Can you list all the things you’re involved in?
The American Cancer Society. I’m a member of the Elks Lodge. Any breast cancer walk, I’m there. I travel to San Diego once a year, it’s my vacation. And I literally cheer for three days, 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. I’m a member of Bayview Women’s Club. I volunteer for the police department too.
And you help out voters on Election Day?
I’m doing that again. I’ll be there.
How do you find the time to do everything?
Yesterday one of my neighbors came up and asked, ‘How do you do it?’ I sleep well. I sleep eight hours a night. I love doing it. I love doing all of it.
Can you explain what Kiwanis is?
Kiwanis is a global organization dedicated to changing the world, one child and one community at a time. We help with the Safety Town. We clean up the parks. We do CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). We jut had a firefighter appreciation lunch October 8. We sponsor Encinal and Alameda high school Key Clubs. And we’re getting ready to start a third club; it’s called a Builders Club, at Lincoln Middle School. They have fundraisers, car washes and things. They go to convention, and they vote. It’s a way of training them to be Kiwanians as they get older.
How did you get involved?
My dentist, Bill Gardner, he was president at the time. He invited me to lunch one day and I went. But who ended up being my sponsor was actually the late vice mayor, Al DeWitt. I worked on his campaign, he just saw the fire, and wanted to get me involved. For years I hid, just as a board member. I became a member in 1999, and slowly worked my way up.
How does one get involved in Kiwanis?
Kiwanis is open. Our lunches are every Wednesday at noon at the Elks Lodge on Santa Clara, and they’re open to the public. We have it in the newspaper, but our website is http://www.alamedakiwanis.org/. Come to any one of our fundraisers. We get a lot of our members through our fundraisers.
How is Kiwanis different from other organizations, like Rotary?
We’re the same. We’re both service organizations, and we’re both global organizations. Rotarians are usually business owners or presidents or CEOs of companies. Kiwanis are small business owners – the dentists, a Realtor, a junior banker. Our membership dues are the opposite of each other. They’re in a different income bracket than we are. We’re more down to Earth. We’re the fun club. They meet at Grandview Pavilion. We meet at the Rathskeller, at the Elks Lodge.
Do you have any advice for would-be volunteers?
Whatever it is, just make sure you’re passionate about it, or it’s not going to be fun. On Saturday I had be in San Francisco at Golden Gate Park at 6 a.m., and I hate getting up early. But I was there, ready to go, and I had a ball. I had a sign that said ‘Knocking out breast cancer.’
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