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Meet Author and Philanthropist Lauren Swerdloff!

School & class:

Columbia College Senior 2017



Human Rights and Political Science



Los Angeles, California


1. Tell me a little about yourself. What are your favorite hobbies and interests?


This is a challenging question because my interests are always evolving. I usually follow wherever my curiosity takes me. Although I know that certain things will always be important to me. I will always enjoy spending time with the people I love and will always enjoy participating in creative and meaningful work.


2. What are you involved in on campus?

Within the past few years at Columbia, I’ve attended discussions across such a spectrum of clubs. There’s so much constantly happening on this campus that it’s worth keeping an open mind. Some of the best conversations I’ve had started at events that were hosted by groups unfamiliar to me. I’ve been a member of Kappa Alpha Theta since my freshman year, and they have been a continuous source of support. I’ve met such genuine friends and mentors through Theta, and the more time passes, the more grateful I am.


3. So you started volunteering for the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic when you were fourteen years old. What inspired you to start working at the clinic at such a young age?

My mom was a volunteer since the 1970s, so the clinic has always been a part of my family. When I was fourteen, my mom would help me set up fundraising efforts, and we would bring our donations to the clinic. Getting to know the volunteers and patients at the clinic left such an impact on me.


4. What range of services does the clinic provide?

The Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic is a licensed non-profit in Los Angeles that provides free healthcare to thousands of people of all ages every year. It’s a small building on Sunset Boulevard, nestled behind palm trees, telephone poles, and low-sweeping cable wires, but it has a revolutionary history. The clinic has been open since 1968, treating over one million people– it’s incredible.


5. Since this clinic provides free services, how has it survived for so long?

The volunteers have worked wholeheartedly, and often late hours, to keep the clinic’s doors open for individuals and families in need of help. Donations and support from people across the country has made all the difference.


6. Although the clinic is located in California, you’ve continued your volunteer work throughout your time at Columbia. What is it about the clinic that has kept you working there for so long?

I fell in love with the clinic, and I wanted to do everything in my power to help it stay open. The clinic is run by volunteers, a small administrative staff, donations, and occasional grants. Every helping hand counts.


7. How have you been able to continue your work for the clinic from across the country?

I mostly help through fundraising efforts and my writings. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter where in the world you are or how busy you are, if you truly care about something, you will find a way to make it work within your life.


8. You just published a non-fiction book on the true story of the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic titled Uplifting Lives. Was this your first book?

Uplifting Lives was actually my second published book! When I was younger, I wrote a bilingual children’s book titled Señor Sprinkles. I originally wrote it for a little boy named Eddie who was a patient at the clinic and was struggling to read English. I ended up self-publishing it and donating the proceeds to the clinic as well. Seeing the support of the Los Angeles community at such a young age really motivated me to continue my volunteer efforts.


9. What exactly is the book about?

Uplifting Lives is the history of the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic, that traces the stories of volunteers, patients, and community members over a span of nearly 50 years. It shows how the clinic was able to treat over one million people and unite the community against all odds.


10. What inspired you to write Uplifting Lives?

I wanted to preserve their incredible history, so that it would never be lost and would carry the legacy on for future generations. The stories that I heard from people across Los Angeles about their experiences at the clinic, and the moments I witnessed firsthand, reminded me that this was a narrative that had to be told.


11. What do you hope the impact of this book will be?

I hope that it will encourage people to join me in the effort to support the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic and other non-profits that are addressing poverty across our country.


12. It’s incredible that you were able to balance writing a book and schoolwork! How did you do it?

It was one of the most challenging yet thought-provoking endeavors that I have ever taken. The clinic’s story had never been written, so I didn’t have a textbook of dates and names to refer to. The first page of my Microsoft Word document was blank. So, I started researching day one of the clinic’s history when the clinic opened in 1968, and interviewed the founders. Then, I moved along the timeline. I interviewed people who were there and collected newspapers, video footage, relevant readings, and old photographs to include details. It was like putting the pieces of a complicated puzzle together, and it was fascinating to see it come together.


13. What was the most difficult part about writing this book?

Every step of the process was uniquely difficult – albeit the research, the writing, the editing, the designing, or the publishing. Compiled on top of school exams and the day-to-day craziness of life, it was incredibly time consuming. Yet it was never exhausting. On the contrary, it was fulfilling to know that every night I was participating in meaningful work and sharing a story that could support the free clinic and other community centers in the efforts to address social injustice. The process was an incredible test of mental endurance, but absolutely and undoubtedly worth every moment.


14. In an interview for the Huffington Post you mentioned that this clinic exemplifies community empowerment. Could you elaborate on this?

The clinic was opened by a small group of young civil rights activists, volunteer doctors and nurses from Los Angeles, who wanted to ensure that their community received the healthcare it needed. They led this center over the years through numerous community crises and brought together people from across the city, and even people from across the nation, to support. They empowered their own neighborhood in more ways than one.


15. In addition to your work, several celebrities have supported the clinic including Robert Downey Jr., Sting, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Elton John. In your opinion, how has this clinic attracted support from such prominent public figures?

As people have started to hear about the clinic, meet the volunteers, and see their incredible impact, the clinic’s story has united people from a variety of communities. The support of well-known public figures, ranging from musicians to actors to politicians, has been incredibly helpful. Not only has it helped the clinic address the immediate health needs of the Los Angeles community, but it has also opened a conversation about poverty and human rights between communities that were once vastly disconnected.


16. It is clear that your work has made a major impact on this clinic; how has this clinic impacted you?

The clinic showed me the incredible capacity of human beings to be compassionate, strong, and dedicated, even through the toughest of times. Every day, for more than seven years, I have seen seen how the clinic has saved and transformed lives, and it always reminds me why my volunteer effort is worthwhile. It’s deeply fulfilling to be a part of such an incredible group and to engage in creative work at the same time.


17. Congrats on being a Senior! Do you have any plans for after you graduate, and do you hope to continue volunteering for the clinic after college?

I will always be a dedicated supporter of the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic, regardless of where I am or what I’m doing in life. I hope that others can join me, and make sure that the clinic’s doors stay open! It needs help now more than ever. In the meantime, I will continue doing the work that I do to extend my support. I’m also looking in to more journalistic opportunities and planning for law school. A long and exciting road ahead.


18. After hearing your amazing story, I’m sure many people are wondering how they can get involved. Do you have advice on ways in which people can help?

Think creatively! I’m always willing to speak with people if they have any questions or if they are interested in joining the effort. Volunteer doctors and nurses are always needed and valued, but there are many other ways to support the clinic and its community too! Musicians and artists have created works to raise awareness and donations. Within the past few years, social media has become incredibly helpful as well. Even a simple Twitter or Facebook post can help inspire supporters and keep the clinic’s movement going.


19. Lastly, where can I buy this AMAZING book?!

The book is available for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the Apple iBook Store, my website, and at a variety of other locations. I hope you enjoy the read!


For more information on Lauren and Uplifting Lives: http://www.laurenswerdloff.com/portfolio.html

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Catherine Atherton

Columbia Barnard

Student at Barnard College, Columbia University
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