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My Calling to Serve the United Way – Honoring Unsung Heroes

Written by Mike Flynn, President - Milwaukee Region

I have been blessed throughout my life by the generosity of others. I come from humble beginnings, growing up on the southwest side of Chicago in a single-parent home with four siblings. We did not have a lot, and I can point to specific individuals who took actions to change my life for the better.


As a kid, I loved baseball. Getting to the field for practice or a game was everything to me. I was so focused on the sport, I didn’t realize that I didn’t have some of the things that other kids did. One day, my coach, Coach Risley, called me to the bench. He asked me if he could buy me some new shoes. The pair I had were so worn that my tube sock was hanging out, flopping back and forth all dirty as I ran around the bases. I was mortified and remember being in tears when I got home and told my mom. The next game, Coach Risley’s son told me his dad wanted to talk to me at their car. I must have been around 8 or 9 years old because I remember my legs didn’t touch the floor of his car as he tied on my brand new red sneakers. Overcoming my embarrassment, I raced back to the field feeling so proud in my new shoes. I didn’t notice until years later that nobody on my team teased me for being the poor kid on the team.

As I got older, I started to realize that we were poor and Mom could not afford the basics to get by. My mom relied on public assistance for food and the church for clothes. She worked the night shift because she couldn’t afford daycare, and we received free dental care at the Loyola University Dental School. This was my normal view of the world until I was a junior in high school. That year, around Thanksgiving, there was a knock at the door. It was my classmate Jim Fitzgerald and his father dropping off a box of food for our Thanksgiving meal. If you thought I was embarrassed at age eight, I was quite literally beside myself in high school. How did he know I was poor? How would I face him at school? Would he tell everyone? My fears were unnecessary, because you know what? When I got to school that next Monday, Jim never said a word and never treated me differently.

These are just two examples of generosity and respect that shaped me. Because of Mr. Risley and my teammates, and Jim Fitzgerald and his father, I found a path that led me to college. This path then led me to good jobs and a stable and fulfilling career that helped me provide a safe and happy home for my wife and six kids.

The world is filled with so many wonderful people whose mission is to treat everyone with tremendous respect and help others in need. It’s one of the reasons I proudly support United Way. In our community, the people of United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County work tirelessly every day to make a difference in the lives of so many families in our community.

I am proud to announce I will serve as a 2019 Co-chair for the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County Community Campaign. Through this role, I hope to help make a difference in our community, inspiring others to help in any way they can, positively impacting kids and families in need. We need more unsung heroes who are willing to help. I encourage you to learn more about United Way by visiting their website. More information about the 2019 Community Campaign is coming soon.

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