It has been said that one should strive not to make their presence known, but to make their absence felt. For UCAN, there are so many volunteers giving their talents daily who never ask for recognition, but who would be sorely missed if they were not around.
For close to 10 years, Joe Friedman has been this type of volunteer for the youth who are honored at UCAN’s annual Youth Leadership Awards Dinner. During the ceremony, the young people are each awarded with a scholarship for their academic and personal accomplishments, which means giving a speech in front of over 500 guests. Recognizing this could be a daunting task for some of the youth in our programming-, Joseph Friedman we should give his title or affiliation here so folks know upfront who he is has volunteered his time and talents to help them tell their stories through incredibly inspiring speeches.We talked to Joe to find out more about his efforts and what motivates him to continue working with our youth each year.
How did you first learn about UCAN and what drew prompted you to volunteer for the organization?
My wife was responsible for my introduction to UCAN. She was involved in doing some volunteer projects for Uhlich [previous name for UCAN] and introduced me to Claude Robinson in 2002. Our first program was a Presentation and Negotiation Skills class for the STARS program. We’ve done some level of work for the UCAN each year since. Since 2009, I’ve edited the speeches for the Youth Leadership Awards recipients, and done speech coaching with them in advance of the awards dinner. My family has always been committed to serving the community we live in. We truly believe in the mission of UCAN and love working with young people who are so dedicated to making a difference in the lives of others.
How did your background help prepare you for your volunteer role?
Since 1993, I have co-owed a small, ten10-person, Chicago-based training firm that sells and delivers sales, presentation, negotiation and influence training for corporations large and small. Some of these organizations have included Grainger, John Deere, Wells Fargo Bank, Hospira, Abbott Laboratories and Morningstar.
What do you like most about volunteering for UCAN?
The best part has always been seeing the young people we work with get better. Working with the YLA recipients for the past seven years has been great! I’ve had the opportunity to go to the dinner or see the speeches on video. Seeing the pride and accomplishment of the recipients, the reaction of the audience and the culmination of all their hard work is incredibly gratifying.
What has been your most memorable moment(s) volunteering for UCAN?
When my daughter, now a sophomore at the University of Denver, was in fifth grade, she and her friends came up with the idea to do a toy drive at her school, Alexander Bell Elementary. They decided that they would donate all of the toys collected in this school-wide effort to UCAN. As a result of their toy drive over 400 toys were collected. A bunch of parents helped them deliver all of the presents to the Mozart Street facility before Christmas. The joy of giving from this group of fifth graders (who were featured on WGN-TV 9) could not be topped, ever!
Why do you continue to volunteer here?
Volunteering at UCAN is joyful for me. The gifts I receive by helping others are massive compared to the effort that goes in. I love being on the team and I’m willing to help in any way possible. Working with the youth and staff at UCAN is a gift that keeps on giving.
What would you tell others who are considering volunteering for UCAN?
Any volunteering is about finding the right fit. UCAN’s mission over the past 100 years in serving the needs of at-risk youth is inspiring. It’s a rewarding experience on a number of different levels. The youth and staff I’ve met during the past fourteen 14 years are really exceptional. They work hard, have a passion for service and get results!
How have the youth you worked with inspired you?
What continues to amaze me are the stories each person has. Where they come from, the barriers they’ve overcome and the commitment to rise above their circumstances is incredible. More than anything else, each person I work with is committed to their own success and committed to returning to their communities to make a difference. They not only want to move ahead but help others to do so as well.
What do you like to do in your spare time outside of work and volunteering?
Being a small business owner is very demanding. I spend between 100 and 150 days each year in the classroom delivering the classes we offer. I probably have 25 trips I make a year for clients, including going overseas. I have a daughter in college and a son in high school. We love to do things as a family like travel, movies, games, sports and just hanging out together. I also like the rare moments to just “be.”
To witness these amazing speeches first hand, purchase tickets for the 17th Annual Youth Leadership Awards Dinner by visiting https://ucanchicago.org/yla/.