Amy Lindner: Following Through on a Lesson in the Impact People Can Have

Between finishing college and starting law school, Amy Lindner spent a year working at an auto repair shop in Waukesha. She says she learned valuable things, beyond how her car works.

One lesson was that every job has dignity and deserves respect. Another was that, in dealing with customers, she saw that “the way we treat each other just makes such an impact.” A third: When she told customers what was done for their cars, why it was needed, and why it cost what they were being charged, she found that “just being clear and kind to people is something we all can do in all of our jobs.”

Those are lessons that serve her well in her current position as president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County.

In a virtual “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program posted on Marquette Law School’s web site on Wednesday (December 2), Lindner talked not only about her work in auto repair but about how the Milwaukee area as a whole has been affected by – and is responding to – people’s needs in his time of a pandemic.

As hefty as the impact of COVID-19 has been on many people in the Milwaukee area, Lindner’s report was not all grim. The Milwaukee area has so many caring people and organizations who have done so much to rise to address the needs of people, including health care, food, and shelter, Lindner said. And both those organizations and the philanthropic community have been communicating and coordinating better than they had prior to the pandemic.

“One of the things we needed to do in this pandemic is collaborate better, collaborate differently, particularly among funders,” Lindner said. The major charitable donors have been inundated with requests for help and have been coordinating their work to avoid duplication and make sure needs are met in the most effective ways overall.

Lindner said she expected that would remain the case when the effects of COVID-19 ease. Gousha, Marquette Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, asked if there is the opportunity for Milwaukee to emerge from this period stronger and with better partnerships and communication among funders. “No question,” Lindner answered.

Furthermore, she said, eyes have been opened to existing inequalities in the community. No one wants to go back to the way things were before, she said. The pandemic is reminding everyone of the people we need to listen to and have at the table, Lindner added, saying that people have said such things before but haven’t lived it as fully as they should.

Lindner said she hopes Milwaukee will end up with a stronger net of services for helping people. “There’s definitely some good coming out of this,” she said.

Lindner and the United Way as a whole have a particular immediate concern: Their annual campaign is scheduled to end Dec. 9. The goal for this year is the same as a year ago — $55 million – but the circumstances, of course, are much different. Many who gave gifts a year ago are not able to do that or are giving less due to the changed economic circumstances.

Whatever the amount, Lindner urged people to donate – or to at least take part in meeting community needs in some way. “This is a time when our community really needs us and we all have some ability to make a difference,” she said. “What to me is much more important than the number (of dollars in a donation) is taking the time and making the effort of doing so.” Whether you can donate, she said, “please do what you can for somebody else,” including offer encouragement to others as they work on meeting their needs.

After her year at the auto repair shop, Lindner went on to graduate from Notre Dame Law School and become a partner in a major Milwaukee law firm. But she decided she wanted to get involved more directly in meeting people’s needs. She became executive director of Meta House, an agency that serves women with addiction and alcohol problems, and, in 2018, moved to the United Way.

But those lessons from the auto shop – respect others, communicate clearly, be kind — stayed with her, along with that lesson about the positive impact a person can have on others.

The program with Lindner may be viewed by clicking here.





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