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.
“I feel that it’s greatly important to do my part,” said the 71-year-old, who has been donating to various causes for about 20-25 years.
In fact, Achterkirchen is a major supporter of PPPSW, and was largely responsible for the Fronteras Unidas Pro Salud clinic established in Tijuana a number of years ago. This year, his generosity helped add another floor to the building.
“Andy is a tremendous investor in Planned Parenthood, and especially in our binational activities with Mexico,” said Darrah DiGiorgio Johnson, president and CEO of PPPSW. “He truly is a citizen of the world and seeks to improve reproductive health-care services in our cross-border region. Because of Andy’s support, women, men and teens in our communities can receive life-saving cancer screenings, birth control and testing for sexually transmitted infections. He’s an extremely active volunteer, often traveling to Mexico to help share information about the reproductive health care services that are available.”
Along with assisting PPPSW, Achterkirchen has been volunteering at The Preuss School UCSD in La Jolla since it opened in 1999. He currently tutors in three pre-calculus classes and one calculus class in the mornings.
In addition, Achterkirchen has been tutoring primarily math — along with other subjects — at Barrio Logan College Institute in San Diego since around 2000.
And from 1998 until 2011, he tutored students — particularly Somalian immigrants, Latinos and African-Americans — on a weekly basis at the Malcolm X Library through the now-defunct Volunteer San Diego.
Besides volunteering, Achterkirchen has a number of other interests. He has a passion for foreign languages — he speaks Spanish — and travels to Europe annually.
Achterkirchen is also very health-conscious — he has a rowing machine and stationary bike in his home gym.
“I exercise strenuously every day,” he said. “It’s important to me; I put the effort in to maintain my health.”
And Achterkirchen also takes time out of his schedule to visit his mother, Doris, who just celebrated her 97th birthday and now resides in Santa Barbara.
Meanwhile, he is looking forward to the May 9 PPPSW event.
“The dinner is always well done,” Achterkirchen said.
Tickets for the May 9 event may be purchased online at planned.org/dinner
For more information on the organization, visit http://www.plannedparenthood.org/pacific-southwest/