Not only has Ken Schmetterer been a Board member and passionate advocate for Umoja for more than 10 years, but DLA Piper's financial support and pro bono work with Umoja provides a model for corporate-community partnership. Learn more about Ken's involvement and his firm's commitment, in his words:
1. How did you learn about Umoja and why did you decide to be part of the Umoja Board of Directors?
My partner Rich Klawiter knew Umoja's Founder, Lila Leff, through Leadership Greater Chicago and introduced us, as Umoja was looking for pro bono counsel assistance. I then participated in volunteer opportunities. I was inspired by Umoja's exceptional staff. As I learned more about their work and Umoja's impact, it was an easy decision – and a great opportunity – to join the Board when an opening presented itself. I’ve supported many pro bono efforts, but Umoja’s work is unique – comprehensive, holistic, practical and tremendously impactful, not just for the many deserving students, but for teachers and culture and capabilities of entire schools.
2. How does your firm DLA Piper support Umoja?
I am fortunate to work at a firm with tremendous, talented people who strongly support pro bono and community service initiatives. The firm is a regular sponsor of Spring Fling, and we have several lawyers and staff who have volunteered their time and talents for legal and non-legal matters, Spring Fling silent auction donations, T3 mock interviews and other volunteer opportunities. Ross Eberly, Kevin Connelly, Steve Reynolds and Larry Wojcik (to name just a few) have done exceptional work for Umoja. My colleague Annie Helms – DLA Piper’s Director and Counsel of US Pro Bono Programs – has been an extraordinary, comprehensive (and very modest, behind the scenes) source of support for Umoja for many years. There are many others too numerous to name here.
3. What aspect of Umoja’s work is particularly interesting to you as a lawyer?
As a litigation attorney, I see many protracted and costly conflicts that could have been resolved earlier or avoided entirely with some other foresight, opportunities or options that may not have been apparent when the dispute arose. My pro bono work involving the juvenile justice system revealed exceptional challenges faced by so many deserving, under-resourced, at-risk children whose lives could be so much more with the right support. Umoja’s work was a paradigm-shift for me. A comprehensive, holistic, smart and effective set of support and programs, developed and run by talented staff, to change the hopes and opportunities of many kids who deserve our collective best.
4. Why do you think it’s important for companies like DLA Piper to “give back” and partner with organizations like Umoja?
Those of us who have been very fortunate in our lives have a personal obligation to give back. As a more practical matter, it will take all of our collective energy, resources and talent to address and move past the many challenges facing our under-served young people, schools and neighborhoods. The problems seem intractable, but the impact from Umoja’s work proves that we are able to fix so much -- if we all do our part.