Volunteer Spotlight: Gary Schumacher

How did you get started in volunteering?

My dad was very big into volunteering when I was young. He was involved in Louisville Knights of Columbus, Junior Achievement (JA) advisor, Chaired Louisville Bicentennial-Silverama Celebration and helped organized building Louisville football fields. While doing all this, my dad Paul co-founded H-P in Louisville, along with my Uncle Harold. It’s one of those things as a kid you watched in the background and don’t realize the impact he had on our community. He passed away when I was 18 so hopefully, he’s able to see how I tried to carry on his legacy of volunteering in our community.

Tell us about your volunteering career.

Junior Achievement: I’ve been involved with JA for probably 40 years, and on their board around 30 of those years. JA gives young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their futures, and make smart academic and economic choices. JA’s programs focus on the core content areas of work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. I am very passionate about financial literacy. I currently serve on the JA Board and have served as past Board President and Program Committee Chair.

Synchrony: During my career at Synchrony, I was fortunate to be engaged and/or lead many volunteer events, i.e. Habitat, Akron Canton Food Bank drive, UW Day of Caring, JA Bowl-a-thon, YMCA Corporate Challenge, Red Cross Disaster Relief, Veterans events, lead LGBTQ Network, initiated JA in-a-day Financial Literacy program for high school Juniors at Walsh, etc.

United Way of Greater Stark County: In 1998, I became a member of the Community Investment Council and was part of it for many years. In 2017, I joined the Financial Stability Council and am now currently chair of that council. I am also a member of the Community Investment Council and Board of Directors. I enjoy being part of United Way because you get to roll up your sleeves and find out about organizations. We go out and visit organizations, see everything that they do and conduct reviews.

I’m also on the Board at St. Joseph Senior Living Center in Louisville and currently chair the Personnel Committee. I’m currently co-teaching three Career Success classes at McKinley HS for 9th graders with Tim Kelly, recently retired from Synchrony. Actively involved on the St. Thomas Aquinas 50th year alumni reunion planning committee.

Why is volunteering so important?

Simply, it’s the right thing to do. I have been very blessed with a great family, friends, good health and a passion to get involved from my dad. There is a lot of need in our community and getting involved makes me feel that I’m making a small difference in someone’s life and in our community. Our community needs volunteers and I strongly believe that people need to volunteer because basically people are very compassionate and want to help others that are less fortunate. If we are able to build and sustain a model that shows people how to get involved, and their impact, it will only lead to a better, healthier, and prosperous community.

I always tell my boys that you’ve got to get involved, you’ve got to get engaged. Somebody can show you something but if you don’t get involved, don’t get engaged, then you’re missing so much. 

I always thought when I was teaching JA – I wish parents would come into a classroom and see what teachers go through. I just taught one very organized lesson and came out exhausted. It was great but they have no idea how much teachers do.

It really opened my eyes up by going out to funded partners and seeing what they do. It’s amazing. I was fortunate enough to participate in many funded partner reviews recently and without going into a lot of detail, there are so many good people doing so much good out there. It’s a challenge but rewarding as well to see all the things they are doing in our community.

You must break the chain somewhere. Start changing things when they are younger, like in middle school.  Then kids can start understanding other opportunities – careers. We’ve got to break that chain somewhere. Got to start explaining the opportunities and what’s available to open their world and their possibilities.

Some people need to be asked to volunteer. When you volunteer, you begin to understand the need in the community and see the impact of the services that are funded.

Even if it’s for a few hours, or a day or a few times a month – you will begin to see the need.

Life wears you down, but volunteering keeps you involved and engaged. 

Why is financial literacy so important to you?

Kids don’t know, what they don’t know. They finish school and/or college and are expected to know about careers, budgeting, credit choices, savings, etc. And they don’t.

My current involvement with JA and UW continues to validate my commitment to volunteering, to help improve financial literacy to our youth, adults and families. Financial stability, in my opinion, is one of the biggest areas of opportunity facing our community. We need to break the cycle of poverty.

We need to start reaching out to our youth and share with them the various career opportunities and explain to them the importance to start developing habits that businesses are looking for, like communication skills, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. I strongly believe it starts with our grade school, middle school and high school students. I’m extremely excited about the UW Get Connected program for High School students, with a focus on one-on-one mentoring opportunities. It ties right into what I do and what I’m passionate about.

The good news is schools are trying to get a little bit of this financial literacy in there, but we’ve got a long way to go. And if we don’t start doing it now or start looking at what we can do in the schools, they will fail.

However, at the same time, we also need to work with adults and families to focus on social capital through strengthening our relationships with individuals and connecting them to resources that will help them achieve their goals: long-term stable employment, access to income boosting benefits, credit score enhancement and asset building.

You are such a crusader for volunteering. Tell us about why you recruit.

Every day, people make choices on what they do that day: go to work, go to school, take care of a loved one, stay home with their children, etc. If I can show individuals how they can impact people in our community and how to get involved, I believe more people will make an informed decision on what they can do.

My current involvement with JA and UW continues to validate my commitment to volunteer to help improve financial literacy to our youth, adults and families. We can only do this if we are able to collectively work together to get engaged in creating a value-add proposition that includes volunteering to meet the needs of our community.

There are many retired people in the community who would like to volunteer, and I am trying to increase awareness of the opportunities available to them. You need a purpose when you retire. Some people are retiring at 60-61 and they are staying healthier, living longer. I want retirees to be engaged. They don’t know where to reach out or what they want to do – their passion. I am working with UW to help offer them volunteer opportunities, to get people out and give back a little bit.

I’m going to teach a class at McKinley, three classes a day for juniors on financial literacy, for 5-6 weeks. What better way can you get into volunteering besides teaching career planning to juniors in high school? I’m trying to pull some of these retirees into the program and say “Hey, let’s team teach.” People are intimidated going into schools because kids can be very tough. But if you get a couple of people to go in together to teach, it’s not too bad. It’s just breaking that perception that there’s no opportunities out there.

We used to participate in the service dogs’ program with Goodwill and had four dogs over the years. Only one dog graduated but we loved being a part of the program. You can appreciate the dogs more when you are involved. You see that they have a good purpose.

There’s always something to do. One day when I was around 14 or 15, I came home and said “I’m bored. I don’t have anything to do.” Her eyes picked up – it was the only time I told her I had nothing to do or I was bored – and she put me right to work. People need to find something. If anyone is bored or has nothing to do, shame on them.  Because there’s always something to do – you don’t need to work 8 hours a day, but there are so many things you can do. People don’t know what talents they can offer to our community. Individuals can figure out what they are passionate about and get involved. If anyone is bored or has nothing to do, shame on them. Many individuals really don’t know how to get involved.

It’s all about getting involved. We are a family, a community.  We are only as good as the people around us.

What have you done recently that really opened your eyes?

I just completed several agency reviews of funded UW partner programs. I was able to visit after-school programs in Massillon and Alliance that provide activities, enrichment, learning opportunities, quality programs, etc. There was one that stood out to me in Alliance. This program was very engaging, provided enriched activities for students and assisted them with daily homework. These students rotated between activities in their gymnasium – music, schoolwork, arts and crafts, or gaming. They were engaged and involved. This partnership with the schools, families and community are helping to empower and prepare our youth.

I see kids graduating from high school now and want to ask, “What are you going to do now”? I know in my generation the question was always “Where are you going to school”?  That is not the right question now because there is so much available and everyone is not for college and college isn’t for everyone. I think there is so much to be learned from these kids. We simply need to listen, pay attention and give them an opportunity to learn about careers. Learning what options are available for them, not just college. There is more than business or engineering. Engineers – God knows we need the STEM program – absolutely, but there are many more opportunities for kids out there. Teaching, agriculture, manufacturing – there is so much available that they may not know about. How would they? It’s not their fault. When you are in middle school, you aren’t really thinking about your career, but you are making observations, beginning to do what you want and finding your passion. I think the more that we can offer – especially in the schools – I think it is so important to give them those opportunities.

There’s something for everyone out there. Right now, anyone can get a job, but what can you do and what do you want to do? The sad part is – when we met with some of the funded partner shelters, many of the participants must work two jobs. A single woman with two kids has a difficult time making it. The average person out there doesn’t realize that. You must make $25 and hour just to break even. It’s a struggle.

Is there something you would like people to know about United Way?

Each time I visit a UW funded partner agency, I’m always impressed with the level of engagement, passion, commitment and enthusiasm of each of the staff members at these agencies. I wish there was a way to illustrate the impact that UW has on the partner programs they help fund. Many people in our community may not know the UW services that are available to them. Also, some people may not even realize that they are using UW funded programs. Until you need the services, it’s something you don’t pay much attention to. UW is there for you. It’s a blanket, it’s support.

I wish there was a good way to show the correlation between what United Way does and partner programs they help fund. I don’t know how you do that; you don’t want to toot your own horn. But what would the community be like without United Way or funded partners? It’s always going to be a grassroots type of thing, talking to individuals one at a time.

You don’t even need United Way until you need United Way. When I worked at Synchrony, I bet if I looked at who is using a United Way service, there would have been way more than I would have expected – you don’t know who’s using or participating. That’s not something you go around and talk about. They’re there when you need it, but people don’t go around saying “Oh, guess what I just applied for bus tickets”. Sometimes you are embarrassed to use those programs, but I can understand. Because of that – the stories that you do hear are so heartwarming. Some people may not even realize that they are using United Way, or a program supported or funded by United Way.

Until you need the services, it’s something you don’t pay attention to – all of us. United Way is there in the back of the mind, operating behind the scenes.

United Way – I’m blessed to be here, participating. I love getting involved. The staff here is great, which makes it enjoyable. I’ll continue as all as I’m able and passionate about it.

Tell us about yourself.

I have been married 43 years, my wife Cis works at Stark County Educational Service Center and I retired from Synchrony in September 2018. We have two boys, one living in Atlanta, GA and one living in Cincinnati. Originally from Louisville, I went to St. Louis grade school, St. Thomas Aquinas HS and graduated from Akron University. I’m the youngest of six children. My wife and I enjoy the outdoors, we walk, hike and plan to travel. We enjoyed remodeled houses and flipped them before it was popular. When we were first married, we moved 15 times in 17 years. We were involved in training dogs for the Goodwill service dog program. I play tennis and before retiring played co-ed volleyball and co-ed softball. I competed in a sprint triathlon in Chicago and finished ahead of one of my sons. 

In 1991, I traveled to Russia with my brother John for a Business Conference and to introduce a free enterprise system to Russia through JA. We participated by engaging with students in two of the JA classes being taught in middle school in St. Petersburg, Russia. 

I enjoy watching inspirational movies about underdogs like Rudy and Field of Dreams. Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of Hallmark movies.