Don Villar with megaphone at rally

Don Villar has always been a champion for workers, tirelessly advocating for his fellow Chicagoans to have equitable access to basic needs and rights.

Don Villar with NABET-CWA Local 41

Don Villar, second from left, with his union NABET-CWA Local 41

Don Villar lives his life by the Golden Rule. His parents instilled this value – treating others as you wish to be treated – at a young age. As immigrants from the Philippines, Don’s family moved to the Uptown neighborhood in Chicago the early 1970s. The racially diverse community struggled with poverty, affordable housing, and gang activity.

But Don’s family remained hopeful. They often opened their door to strangers in need. “My folks were always there to help people, and it rubbed off on me,” Don said.

He also saw the positive work of several local charities in his neighborhood. They provided essentials like food and shelter and ran after-school programs, which Don attended. Many of these organizations and programs were likely supported by United Way, he said.

“Growing up, I saw that this is what United Way means, to come together and lift each other up and provide support,” Don said.

Today, Don carries on his neighborhood’s legacy of giving back. Whether as an Emmy award-winning broadcast news journalist, a civil rights attorney, or a labor activist, Don has always been a champion for workers. Over the decades, he has tirelessly advocated for his fellow Chicagoans to have equitable access to basic needs and rights.

This impactful work is only possible when we “stand together,” Don said. United Way of Metro Chicago’s partnership with the Chicago Federation of Labor, where Don is in his second term as Secretary-Treasurer, is a shining example of what’s possible when we unite to help our neighbors. “We can’t do this work alone, which is why our partnership with United Way is so critical,” Don said.

In 2020, Don joined United Way to advocate for working families at the launch of United for ALICE in Springfield. Later that year, he helped launch the Chicago Labor COVID-19 relief fund. Don worked alongside United Way to support thousands of union members impacted by the pandemic at food distributions and with direct cash assistance. He saw firsthand the fear and anxiety in the eyes of recently furloughed workers – and the hope they carried after receiving a box of food.

“Our work through the Chicago Labor COVID-19 relief fund brought things into focus, that we are our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers,” Don said. “We have to be there to help each other, and it was a great experience doing this with United Way.”

Before his current role with the Chicago Federation of Labor, Don was a decades-long donor to United Way. When he was a news writer and producer at WLS-TV / ABC7, he started supporting United Way’s annual campaign in 2015 as a member of the cabinet while representing his union NABET-CWA Local 41, where he would eventually serve as President.

Don also serves on the board for HIRE360, which began as Access United, a labor training program launched at United Way.

In honor of his commitment to strengthening communities across the region and serving as a champion for workers, Don received the 2024 Community Leadership Award at United Way of Metro Chicago’s annual Stronger Neighborhoods Awards Luncheon on May 30, 2024.

The award recognizes Don’s transformative work in Chicago – and the arc of a career dedicated to making his home a better place.

“[Receiving the 2024 Community Leadership Award] is very moving. I’m touched and humbled, but I don’t do what I do for accolades,” Don said. “I do what I do because I want to build a better city. I get to get up every day and try to make a difference, and that is powerful.”

“When I was a journalist, I got to write stories that touched people’s lives. At the Chicago Federation of Labor, I work with people who want to make a difference and provide hope. I want to build a more beautiful city, a city where people can thrive and reach their full potential.”



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