L. Marie Asad chats with fellow United Way board members while sorting cans of food on long folding tables, organizing them by category—beans, vegetables, soup. Andrew Vail reviews DACA application forms during a free clinic for immigrants. Valerie and Patrick McInerney show their two-year-old daughter how to pull a weed from a community garden bed.

For L. Marie, Andrew, and Valerie and Patrick, volunteering is a lifestyle, a calling. They believe in the power of giving back, of being “servant leaders,” as L. Marie says, because she knows what it’s like to go without—and that coming together as volunteers can make a difference in the community, breaking down systemic barriers and driving positive, equitable change.

L. Marie Asad, South-Southwest Regional Board
“Growing up in Englewood, I saw firsthand what it was like not to have all the necessities that today so many take for granted, like stable housing, heat, electricity, food, and access to a doctor or dentist when you needed it,” L. Marie said. “Volunteering makes a difference, and I’ve experienced how good it feels to help others and enact change.”

United Way and L. Marie are synonymous. For the last eight years, she’s served as a United Way South-Southwest Suburban Regional Board member. She’s also a representative of our Blue Island-Robbins and Bronzeville Neighborhood Networks steering committees. You’ll often see L. Marie sporting her “LIVE UNITED” t-shirt, volunteering to sort food donations or distribute meals and stuffed animals at our annual April Food Day and Uniting for the Holidays events.

“I truly believe in the concept of servant leadership. It’s about leading by example and paying it forward,” L. Marie said. “Choosing to serve with United Way is important because it allows me the opportunity to get to know the organizations on the front lines helping the community, which allows me to do a better job in connecting Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois with resources to help our members and the communities we serve.”

As a community relations specialist for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, L. Marie helps bridge the healthcare gap and “remove barriers to healthy living at the community level,” she said. “We recognize that helping people live healthy lives depends on more than access to health care. It extends to access to affordable housing, reliable transportation, a safe environment, education, stable employment, and healthy food options. This is why we work with organizations like United Way of Metro Chicago to help support those crucial needs to help our community members lead healthier lives.”

Valerie and Patrick McInerney, 9/11 Day of Service

As Detroit natives, Valerie and Patrick McInerney were avid volunteers with their local United Way and company-organized volunteer programs, so after moving to Chicago for work, getting involved with United Way of Metro Chicago was a natural fit.

Supporting healthy communities and strong leaders is in their DNA. Valerie is the marketing director for PwC’s Trust Leadership Institute, which aims to equip 10,000 leaders with the skills to build and maintain trust in their organizations and communities. Patrick is a marketing and product development leader at EnMotive, a company that specializes in running and athletic events. Valerie used to create urban gardens in Detroit, and Patrick is a skilled craftsman. Our 9/11 Day of Service last year was a perfect fit for their backgrounds and skills.

With their two-year-old daughter, Quinn, in tow, they worked with fellow volunteers outside at the Montessori School of Englewood, building planters and prepping gardens—creating green space and access to healthy food for families.

“Creating and repairing garden beds was important to us as it can really change a child, and really everyone, to be exposed to gardening, to see the beauty in their environment, and to learn from seeing plants grow,” Valerie said. “Being in the neighborhood reminded me of where I lived as a child in Detroit, and I really felt like I could feel the impact the work would have for the community.”

Before the plants they tended even started growing, Valerie and Patrick saw the impact of their labor as a little boy volunteering with his family worked alongside Patrick. He was Patrick’s spontaneous apprentice, eager to learn how to measure and mark where to cut each piece of wood, Patrick acting as teacher and the child, proud to be his student.

“Volunteering is a great way to see how you can make an impact in real time. Beyond giving dollars to a cause, volunteering your time gives you a connection to the cause that is truly gratifying to the soul,” Valerie said. “For those of us with children, it’s wonderful to give them the experience and keep paying it forward for generations to come.”

Andrew Vail, General Counsel for United Way of Metro Chicago

The next generation is top of mind for Andrew Vail. With a toddler and another child on the way, plus a career in law, he still finds time to give back, serving as our first-ever general counsel. For the last two years, Andrew has provided strategic advice and legal counsel on a pro bono basis for United Way, while maintaining his role as a litigation partner at Jenner & Block LLP.

“United Way of Metro Chicago is a critically important part of the commitment of the Chicagoland community to a stronger, more vibrant and equitable community for all, including, importantly, our next generation, which includes my two-year-old son and soon-to-be-born daughter,” Andrew said.

Not only does Andrew help provide counsel on potential legal challenges, risk prevention, and navigation, but he’s “most excited about new opportunities to creatively and broadly work with the United Way team and my colleagues and attorney network to address unmet legal needs in our community that we come across through United Way’s programs,” he said.

“We partnered Jenner & Block, BMO Harris Bank NA, and United Way, along with the National Immigrant Justice Center and Mexican Consulate, to provide a clinic for first-time DACA applicants. It’s very rewarding, not only from a legal perspective, to add a tool to the toolbox by forging partnerships and creating new opportunities to further United Way’s mission.”

Andrew is a fierce advocate for public service and sharing his skills in law to build equitable communities. Not everyone can afford a lawyer or have access to legal resources and advice, which is why Jenner & Block’s Pro Bono Program is so vital. Andrew is the immediate past chair of the program, spearheading the firm’s current five-year $250 million commitment to pro bono service. Under Andrew’s leadership, the program has been ranked and recognized repeatedly by the American Lawyer as the top pro bono program in the United States.

“At Jenner & Block, a commitment to public service is at the core of our values and mission as a law firm,” Andrew said. “We are a firm with a conscience, and serving our community is an obligation and a privilege of every lawyer at Jenner & Block. We recognize, encourage, and support our people in their efforts to contribute to the communities in which they live and work. Our pro bono work has a tremendous impact on individual lives, law, and policy.”

“The need in our community is so great, and volunteering can mean so much, including to those who engage. There is no time better than now to volunteer.”

April is National Volunteer Month, and we’re grateful for the thousands of volunteers—like L. Marie, Valerie and Patrick, and Andrew—who have given back this past year and will continue to support their neighbors in the years to come.

Join us! As Andrew shared, there is no better time than now to volunteer. Learn more about our opportunities to engage with your community and make a difference.