Day job: Chairman, president, and CEO of Liberty Diversified International
Volunteerism: Greater Twin Cities United Way, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics, Greater Minneapolis Children’s Crisis Nursery, University of Minnesota Foundation, Minnesota Early Learning Foundation
“We’ve got to give the next generation the freedom to lead and change the world, because they will,” says Mike Fiterman, father of three, grandfather to six, and president of a successful family-run business solutions company. “I am passionate about making sure kids have a good start in life and that parents are not deprived of providing for their kids and giving them a good education.”
He puts that passion into action, devoting his time, talents, and money to a long list of organizations that support kids from birth through adulthood: Children’s Crisis Nursery, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics, the University of Minnesota Foundation, the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation, and Greater Twin Cities United Way.
“I love children’s causes. I love helping to develop kids because there’s so much potential that can be wasted if not directed early,” he says. “I was on the board of directors at MELF, and a bunch of corporate CEOs raised more than $20 million to determine the best way to get kids ready for kindergarten. We knew that 80 percent of brain development happens before age 6. If you don’t prepare the child, they won’t know how to read or recognize colors or letters, and then they’re a teenager who hates school. They’ll have been in the lowest reading group, and they’ll get bullied or bully someone else. If we don’t do something early, those kids will fall through the cracks without help.”
One antidote to bullying, Fiterman says, is giving kids a safe environment where they can help others, feel empowered, and gain a sense of purpose. “For those kids who are bullied, the greatest escape could be volunteering someplace where they are really appreciated and where people like them for who they are and what they’re doing,” Fiterman says. “Volunteering is a great equalizer. Nonprofit organizations need volunteers; they welcome them with open arms.”
Volunteering is also addictive, he says. “Once you do it you feel so good that you want to keep doing it.” Fiterman touts events like We Day, where kids are rewarded for their volunteerism with a ticket to an arena concert (see story on page 36). “We Day is great because it shows high school and junior high kids they can make a difference by volunteering or raising just $25. It’s so important to learn that giving is a responsibility we all have to make a difference or change.”
Ever the family man, Fiterman insists that his wife, Linda, is even more generous with her time than he is. Their children and grandchildren have followed in their footsteps, too. “There’s nothing more gratifying for a parent or a grandparent than to see that your values have rubbed off.”