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Distinguished Dozen: From Easter Bunny to school counselor, Renee Lundgren does it all

In the spring, Renee Lundgren dresses up as the Easter Bunny for a community-wide Easter egg hunt.

In winter, she and her family chop wood for people who otherwise would not have fuel for heat.

At Christmas, she decorates her house for days and hosts a giant sleepover for her six grown kids, spouses and grandkids on the night before Christmas. For many years, she helped organize a Breakfast with Santa, allowing kids who couldn’t visit Santa at a mall to see Santa in Scottsville — and get a healthy meal at the same time.

And those are all just side gigs for which she volunteers.

In fact, Lundgren has a full-time job as a senior family support worker in the Albemarle County department of social services. In that role, she assists elementary and middle school students in southern Albemarle County in the Scottsville area who are experiencing some type of difficulty, from grief to anger to fear to anxiety, the latter of which Lundgren said she’s seen a lot in recent years due to COVID-19.

Just where she gets her energy is anybody’s guess, but Lundgren said that helping people actually gives her energy.

“I know it sounds corny, but being able to help people feeds my soul,” said Lundgren, who has lived in Albemarle for 37 years. “I’ve always been passionate about helping people. I feel it’s really important to build bridges, because when you build bridges, you build strong communities.”

With degrees in social work and mental health counseling, Lundgren has worked for more than 30 years helping school children, tailoring her responses to their unique needs and to their ages. For example, middle school students are more skilled at identifying their emotions than elementary school students, Lundgren said. She uses a technique called “play therapy” for the younger students to help them learn about their emotions. Sometimes the middle-schoolers are just “needing someone to talk to.”

“I try to provide caring and empathy and a hand up,” Lundgren said. “I’ve been in the community so long that I’ve been able to build relationships with a lot of people.”

Lundgren said she loves seeing how people can grow — and also how a community can grow. She’s been a major part of both. She helped to spearhead the development of a childcare center in Scottsville.

“We didn’t have childcare out here,” she said. “But with help from others, we were able to open a day care center that not only provides childcare but also employs 14 women from the community.”

And, after hearing that many of school kids and their families needed food, she started a food pantry, working with the local Food Lion.

“They just gave out 90 food baskets last week,” she said the week before Christmas.

And then there’s the wood chopping. Her kids and the local 4-H club organize “The Lumberjack Attack” to cut and split wood to give to people who rely on wood to heat their homes. The family will be chopping wood this Saturday, Jan. 7, and delivering it to families.

Terri Higgins, Lundgren’s nominator for this year’s Distinguished Dozen, said she marvels at Lundgren’s energy and devotion.

“I worked with Renee for 18 years, and she was always committed and would give one hundred percent,” Higgins said. “She just really wants to serve. She has a big heart for people who are struggling and wants to do all she can to help.”

With her years of experience in helping people who are experiencing a crisis, Lundgren said she is very aware of how vulnerable people can feel at such a time, and also of the role she can play in helping them.

“I often encounter people at their lowest points,” she said. One of the most important things she can do for them, she said, is to provide empathy. To help meet material needs, she has developed a web of connections who can steer people quickly to groups that can help them and their families as quickly as possible.

“She is extremely connected,” said Higgins. “Everyone knows who she is, and she will help them and do whatever she can. She will fight the right people who can help when she herself cannot.”

For these reasons, Lundgren loves the tight-knit Scottsville community, she said. And she loves building what she describes as “protective factors” for children, with community get-togethers and events such as the breakfasts with Santa and the Easter egg hunts.

“Some kids come from homes that don’t have the resources” for such merry-making, she said. But that, she believes, is where the community comes in.


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