By Kelley Carlson
Andy Achterkirchen spent nearly half his life designing high-tech systems; these days, he designs his life around helping others.
One of his primary focuses is Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest (PPPSW), and he will serve as an honorary chair for the 10th time during the organization’s annual anniversary dinner, set for May 9 at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront.
The retired electrical engineer has been active in PPPSW for many years. He was on the board of directors for six years, with a two-year stint as vice-chair; served as chair of the Regionalization Committee, which examined how the nonprofit could more effectively serve its three-county San Diego, Riverside and Imperial region; and was a member of the Governance Committee, which updated PPPSW’s bylaws. Achterkirchen currently serves on several panels, including the Budget and Finance and Audit committees, and the Binational Affairs Advisory Committee, which focuses on cross-border health issues.
Furthermore, he is a longtime board member of Fronteras Unidas Pro Salud, a sister affiliate of PPPSW that provides health services to some of the poorest people in Tijuana.
“They haven’t kicked me off yet,” Achterkirchen joked.
The philanthropist currently resides in Del Mar, but he was born and raised in North Hollywood. For his college education, Achterkirchen relocated to the East Coast and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). After graduation, he returned to Los Angeles, where he was hired by TRW Inc. (which was later acquired by Northrop Grumman).
At TRW, Achterkirchen worked on communications systems for satellites, and his time at the company included a 15-month stint in Alice Springs, Australia, in the heart of the continent. In 1981, TRW opened an avionics-oriented group in San Diego, and Achterkirchen subsequently moved to Del Mar and worked on communications systems for aircraft. After a career at TRW that spanned 33 years, he retired in March 2000 and turned his attention to volunteering.
Around that time, Achterkirchen began to attend PPPSW’s President’s Council meetings, where lecturers spoke to donors about topics of interest such as new birth control methods and efforts to reduce STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). He became acquainted with the organization’s leadership, and was subsequently invited to join the board of directors. Achterkirchen served on the panel from 2004 to 2009.
“It’s satisfying meeting a bunch of people with similar values and the same motivation,” Achterkirchen said. “I’m making a lot of friends I wouldn’t have made otherwise.”
One of the reasons Achterkirchen was drawn to Planned Parenthood is that it provides services that are essential for people who do not have health insurance and don’t qualify for state aid.
“Many of these individuals don’t have any other place to go to receive the services that PPPSW provides,” Achterkirchen said.
“I want to ensure they can receive these services regardless of their health insurance and economic status,” he added.
And in order to continue offering access to sexual and reproductive health care and information, Planned Parenthood relies on donors for much of its financial support.