Arden Down doesn’t want to help anyone. That may sound like a surprising statement coming from a woman whose career has been oriented around counseling others and whose life is packed with activism and volunteering.
“I don’t want to help people,” she says, “I want to empower them. I want them to honor the power within them and help themselves.”
It’s a message that rings true throughout Arden’s life. Her intensive management and counseling career covered subject matter ranging from the emotional to the financial, but all her work focused on uplifting people of poor and moderate means.
“Since I was a young person, I’ve always wanted to work in ways that would benefit other people – empowering them.”
In the 1960s, Arden found herself catalyzed into action as part of the Civil Rights movement. Later, as a young mother in Palo Alto, she organized the building of a girls’ club so girls had a place to go after school like the boys did. In the East Palo Alto school district, she coordinated a volunteer program to provide one-on-one tutoring to children for whom English was a second language, and she brought skills from the larger community into the classrooms. After this program, two local community colleges invited Arden to develop “Volunteers in Education” workshops, each attended by over 500 people.
These days you can sometimes find Arden at the NYC library offering pro-bono financial counseling services for the public. Or you can attend one of her presentations on single-use plastic pollution. For seven years, she testified at town halls and before city councils about the dangers of fracking, also writing countless op-eds and articles about the risks. Along with others, she followed New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s speaking circuit, standing with placards against fracking.
All of Arden’s volunteering came from her commitment to social and environmental justice, but it also cultivated skills in public speaking and running conferences.
“I’m a ham actress myself,” Arden says. “I would conduct 3- and 5-day seminars while working at American Management Association. You have to keep people alive. You can’t just stand there and talk at them. I kept them entertained. I love the theater. I would roleplay with myself and with attendees. One man came up to me after a seminar and said, ‘I’ve never had a seminar delivered by an actress before.’”
A Certified Financial Planner, Arden chose to work at Manufacturers Hanover Bank (which merged with Chemical Bank and then Chase) because customers didn’t have to be affluent to qualify for financial planning services. When she retired, she was managing financial planning services for customers and the insurance business. She had developed financial planning software for bank employees and customers. She was also editing a weekly investment newsletter, magazines, videos, and gave many presentations.
PMC’s commitment to social justice, environmental justice, and entertainment drew Arden to become part of the PMC community. She has donated generously and hosts luncheons to spread the word about why PMC’s work is so important.
“I wish more people knew about PMC,” says Arden. “PMC is empowering people to make choices. Nobody is telling people to do something – to get vaccinated or not have kids. Through the media, PMC is giving people information to make good decisions – or not to. It makes alternatives possible. [Listeners can say] ‘Now I know I don’t have to have a baby at 13. I could go to school.’”
Arden talks openly about today’s challenges – the sorrow she feels about issues ranging from ecosystem collapse to racism.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she says. “We’re more segregated than ever. What we need to understand is that we’re all interconnected. And that includes the birds, insects, and all life. We’re now drinking and eating plastic and ingesting toxic chemicals, so how about that? It makes me sad, but I think it’s wise, that young people tell me they are thinking of not having any children. Sadly, we’re destroying the world. Keeping hope in one’s heart becomes a challenge. I make sure to express gratitude every day, and to rejoice in the wonderful people with good hearts trying to do good work.”
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