By Joe Earle
Twenty years ago, Carolyn Axt was a PTA mom, the kind who baked cookies for her kids’ classes and signed up as a room mother. Then she discovered Georgia’s middle schools didn’t teach foreign languages as an academic subject.
“I thought, ‘This is crazy,’” she said recently. She decided to do something about it. “I got involved with legislators. I went down and lobbied (at the Capitol).”
That was the beginning of her career as a volunteer, which led this month to her selection as the city of Sandy Springs’ Humanitarian of the Year.
After that first foray campaigning for foreign languages, Axt went back to her volunteer work in classrooms and her kids’ schools.
One afternoon, a first-grader she had gotten to know was babysitting a younger brother after school and decided to make some popcorn. Something went wrong and the older child set fire to the family’s apartment. No one was hurt, but Axt realized something had to be done to help Sandy Spring families that couldn’t afford child care after school.
“I’m going, ‘Wait a minute. This is crazy. Why are a first-grader and a kindergartener going home alone?”
Axt started a group that would provide a place for low-income children to go in the afternoon. The organization brought high school kids into apartment complexes to work with the younger children. The older students mentored the younger ones. They took field trips. “It was fun,” Axt said.
The organization now is known as the Sandy Springs Education Force. It still raises money for after-school programs for children in Sandy Springs.
As her children grew up, Axt found groups outside the schools needed her help. The California-born IBM saleswoman, who had moved around the country before settling in Sandy Springs more than two decades ago, took on other issues and poured her energy into other local institutions. She’s put in time on the boards of various local non-profits, including the John Ripley Forbes Big Trees Forest, Heritage Sandy Springs, the Sandy Springs Conservancy and the Ashford Dunwoody YMCA.
“I call her Miss Sandy Springs,” said Lucy Hall-Gainer, who on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday presented Axt with the Humanitarian of the Year award for 2010. Hall-Gainer received the award in 2009.
Axt, now a grandmother, is executive director of Leadership Sandy Springs, a program that brings together community and business leaders and teaches them about the community and its needs. The group also sponsors “Volunteer for a Better Sandy Springs Day” in the spring and provides some family entertainment in the fall with outdoor showings of bring-the-kids movies like “Monsters vs, Aliens” and “Ice Age 3.”
“There are so many opportunities through non-profits to bring young and old together,” Axt said. “It breeds a more cohesive community.”
As for her volunteer work to bring her community closer together, Axt has no plans to stop. She enjoys it too much.
“Why do I do it? Oh, my heavens, when you see a young woman who has all the odds against her walk across the (high school graduation) stage, you just cry. There are so many intangibles in volunteering. You work with wonderful people. It’s fun. It energizes you, keeps you active. You learn a lot. …You enjoy it.”