Andy Le has been giving back to his community for nearly two decades. Each year Andy shares his story of receiving United Way's support in the hope that it inspires his colleagues at Comcast to give back too.
We sat down with Andy to hear his incredible journey and how it all comes back to waffles.
How long have you been giving to United Way?
I have been donating to United Way of the Columbia-Willamette for the past 18 years. I'm always about giving. I just want to give knowing that it will go to a good cause and to the people in need.
Later in life, you realized you had a much earlier connection with United Way. When did your relationship with United Way begin?
I didn't know it at that time, because I was just a young kid. I first came over to America at the age of eight. Every time I talk about this I get all emotional, it's because of my family, right? During the fall of Saigon back in 1975 a lot of Vietnamese folks were trying to find freedom. But my family and I didn't leave until 1979 or 1980. My father always said, “I'm only doing this because of you guys” – meaning for my sister and me – “I'm trying to find an opportunity for you guys so that way you can live. That way you don't have to live like us.”
That's why we left Vietnam and we went to Hong Kong, and we were refugees there for a little over two years. We were waiting for someone to sponsor us from America. We were fortunate enough and blessed enough to come over here and start our life.
What it was like coming to the United States as refugees?
You know when we left the country and came over here, my mother and my father do not speak a word of English. So like everything else, we didn't really even understand a lot about America yet. We came here and within a couple of months, we were struggling.
My mother and my father worked very hard picking berries. They couldn't go work for Burger King, they tried to, but they didn't understand why no one would hire them. We had some support from the government but it's just not enough because all together we're a family of seven. My uncle and two aunts lived with us in a small, little one bedroom apartment.
I knew that we struggled back then when we didn't have food, and I have to tell you that at times I only ate once a day. I remember my mom and dad, and my sister and me sitting in front of our house because it was so hot. We didn't have air conditioning. About maybe 20 yards there were two young kids. They must have only been maybe five or six years old. And they were in raggedy clothes and they were just looking at us eating. They didn't have any food. My mother took a little portion of our food and gave it to them. Even at that moment in time, when we didn't have anything, we still gave.
It was at this point that United Way touched your life…how?
I came home from school one day, I remember I was only in the fifth grade. I walked into my apartment and there were a couple of bags of food, right. I look in and I pulled out this box I had never seen before. And I didn't realize then, but it's a box of waffles. I looked at my mom, “What is this?” And that's when she's like, “Oh I got a couple of bags from a place that gives to us."
I didn't really know what United Way was, but there was a symbol and that's how I remember that moment. It's because of the United Way logo on the bags. And so I took the waffles out. We didn't have a toaster, so my mom put them in the oven try to and toast them. And then I opened up the bag of syrup and poured it on top. Do you know how amazing that is? The amazing sweetness of that waffle, that I ate for the first time in America.
Even though it's just a simple thing, but it's something that when I think back, I would never have had that memory, that taste, if United Way did not give our family those bags of food. And especially when we needed it the most. For an eight-year-old boy to get something from someone, to experience that over here and United Way was able to provide that for us…that was truly amazing.
How did you put it all together – that the organization that had given your family bags of food was the same organization you had an opportunity to help support?
Years ago my manager at Comcast asked me to become the ambassador for the United Way giving campaign. My role would be to encourage folks to see if they can participate in giving and helping people out. I didn't think much of it, but when I looked at that symbol, that's when I realized that, at the age of eight years old, United Way was there for me and my family.
Can you share what the journey has been like from having been helped by United Way to now being able to pay it forward and help other kids and families?
I can't describe to you in words, just that it feels so good to help. For me it's personal. When I give to United Way, it's always brings me back to when I was eight years old, when I was looking at that bag of food. Every single time. It just brings tears to my eyes, knowing that someone was there for us and hoping that this money will continue on helping people. Especially helping children, knowing that when they go home they will have food on the table.
Why is it so important that people get involved and help give, volunteer, etc?
For me now, it means everything. Folks don't understand what other people go through. People from different countries. When I say that I came from a different country and we were starving, I open up a lot of eyes.
You know, if people didn't give, I would never have had that opportunity. That's why I encourage if anyone can give a little bit that's great. If you can give a lot more because you have more, that's even better. Just give a few more dollars, it'll add up and it'll help a lot of children like myself when I was eight years old.