Labor and United Way: Celebrating our shared commitment to volunteerism

Andella White has spent a lifetime giving back. As a union member, she has volunteered with a wide range of service organizations for more than 30 years. And her service hasn’t gone unnoticed. That’s why the paraeducator recently received the Bernie Firestone Labor Award from United Way for Southeastern Michigan at our annual Labor Luncheon. The award honors a rank-and-file member of a local union for their commitment to the community and is part of how we honor our labor partners for giving, advocating and volunteering with us.

“I don’t need a lot of praise,” Andella said. “I give back because it’s the right thing to do. But when someone recognizes you for what you feel like is your life’s work, that feels really good.”

labor volunteer receives award

Andella White receives the Bernie Firestone Labor Award from United Way for Southeastern Michigan at our annual Labor Luncheon. Pictured, left to right: Tiffany Bush, director of Labor Participation at United Way for Southeastern Michigan; Chuck Browning, director of UAW Region 1A; Andella White, executive board member of the Detroit Paraprofessionals Local 2350; Donna Jackson, president of the Detroit Paraprofessionals Local 2350; James Harris, assistant director of UAW Region 1; and Al Wilson, assistant director of UAW Region 1A.

A history of service

For nearly 80 years, United Way has worked side by side with labor leaders like Andella to improve the lives of families across the region. Donations from union members, coupled with their dedicated volunteerism efforts, support our efforts to help families meet their basic needs, prepare children for school and equip people with skills to build a better life.

Andella is an executive board member of the Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals Local 2350. As a paraeducator, she’s most interested in United Way’s early education work.

“My union is very service oriented,” she said. “We have that in common with United Way, so it makes sense for us to support them.”

That shared interest has resulted in United Way supporting labor by organizing volunteer opportunities for union groups. This includes efforts like serving meals at our Meet Up and Eat Up summer block parties and helping with community beautification projects.

In 2018, United Way partnered with labor on 11 projects, the largest of which was a state-of-the-art 10,000-square-foot playground at Stein Park in northwest Detroit.

Andella joined dozens of other union members to assemble the giant play structure there.

The design was inspired by neighborhood kids who created drawings of their dream playground with the help of KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit that transforms lives through play.

“It was incredible,” said Alicia Dennis, a labor liaison with United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “So many union members came together to build something lasting for the community. It’s a testament to what we can all do together.”

labor volunteers build a playground

Volunteers from several of United Way’s labor partners took part in a playground-building project in 2018.

A shared passion for giving back

United Way plans to soon grow our volunteer partnership with our labor partners, working on even more projects and implementing new ways of tracking the work to measure the impact.

“Our labor partners are some of the most dedicated and hard-working volunteers out there, and so it’s a big priority for us to continue to leverage their skills toward opportunities that move the needle in our communities,” said Kristen Cibulskis, volunteer engagement manager at United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

We’re also partnering with AFL-CIO on a youth skills expo where students ages 13 to 17 can learn more about careers in the skilled trades. By introducing students to these career paths, we can help create a job-ready workforce to meet the growing demand for skilled workers.

“Once you learn a skill, that’s something that can go anywhere with you,” Alicia said.

At the expo, students will have a chance to meet with pipefitters, boilermakers, roofers, plumbers, electricians, mechanics and more. As a result, they can learn about how these union jobs can help sustain a family and contribute to the future of the region.

Volunteering: Just do it

Andella encourages others to find the time to give back. Her advice for anyone else who’s thinking about volunteering is simple: Just do it.

“You just open yourself to so many new experiences and meeting new people,” she said. “You’d really be surprised how much you can learn and who you can meet just by volunteering.”

To find volunteer opportunities that fit your schedule, skills and passions, visit our Volunteer Portal.