“I was captivated,” said Susan McNally Wilde in describing her first experience with UCAN. She was invited as a guest to UCAN’s Youth Leadership Awards Dinner 12 years ago. She remembered her admiration for the winner of the Foster Parent of the Year Award, a homicide detective, who took in young men ages 14 to 18. At that time he was fostering several young men and Susan recalls him saying “I want to get them in here before I see them out there.”
“I saw Jack Rooney (then US Cellular CEO and principal sponsor) hugging those kids and everyone clapping for the kids. It was authentic. It was real,” stated Susan. “As a business person I saw in UCAN a history, longevity, focus, and a track record — all for this very important cause of foster care youth.”
Susan decided that she wanted to volunteer at UCAN working with the youth. She explained that she started a book club at the UCAN Academy. At that time, Susan’s mother, an avid reader, had recently passed and Susan was in possession of her book collection. Her desire to share her mother’s hobby with the youth led her to starting the book club. However, with the changing population of students at the academy, the program was unsustainable. Nevertheless, Susan began to mentor one of the young book club members, Dana Ford, who remains vitally important to her to this day.
After attending more events and gaining exposure to other UCAN programs, Susan realized a desire to help UCAN using the skills she developed throughout her sales and marketing career. After providing valuable feedback, Susan was asked to join the newly formed Resource Development Committee (RDC) in 2008. The committee comprises volunteers, two board members and the head of UCAN’s Development Department. The group was focused on recruiting and building relationships with potential donors. Not incidentally, Susan now chairs the RDC.
She also engaged her employer, global software company, SAP, in becoming involved with the Youth Leadership Awards Dinner. Through this effort, one of her colleagues and dinner guests, Jeff Palan, eventually joined the Governing Board. This connection led to SAP’s computer lab donation to the UCAN Academy.
Susan spoke about being raised in a family of five siblings by a single mother with very limited financial means. She spoke about the values that her mother instilled in her of raising the level of fairness in the system and fighting for social justice; she believes had it not been for her mother’s strong example, her path may have been different. She readily admits there were significant gaps, trauma, and a continual sense of being disenfranchised. “With UCAN’s focus on youth and families, we can help fill in the gaps and lessen some of the confusion and helplessness that results from feeling disenfranchised,” says Susan. “I am living proof of our manta that ‘youth who have suffered trauma can become our future leaders.’ We all just need good role models and bit of help now and then.”
She continues light-heartedly, “The UCAN family is authentic, extended, sometimes messy and unusual, just like my family. So, it gives me a lot of purpose to be here among people with whom I feel authentically at home.”
Her overall experience with UCAN?
“In a word? Consistent! In 12 years, having been a part of our programs, our school, the advisory board, Governing Board and the strategy committee, I’ve never met a more consistent, focused, positive organization that does not falter,” she affirmed.
“The people come to mind. The youth that we have given our awards to, like Eddie Bland who went on to graduate from (the University of Illinois) Champaign and is completing his master’s this June. And the young lady at YLA who openly declared that she will be president of the United States one day. I think a great deal about Tom (Vanden Berk, UCAN CEO Emeritus), his legacy and his heart print on the organization. I think about Barb Stone (former UCAN chief development officer) and Fred Long (UCAN vice president of Development) and all the great people that worked to pull this campus out of the Earth like a phoenix. I want UCAN to have a sustainable, strong future like a great Chicago family.
“I want UCAN to continue to be here like a family through generations to come. I don’t desire to work our way out of there being a need for UCAN. I want us to continue to morph UCAN into to providing the services that youth need no matter what phase of life they are in – like family does. And I want to see our youth come back as leaders and mentors to the next generation of youth.”
Susan, who is now retired from here career as an executive in global software, says she now enjoys being a mom, wife, sister and friend. She spends her time volunteering with UCAN and at her son’s school, and recently started her master’s program in Digital Content at DePaul University.