Natalie’s Everyday Heroes: Marshall Chay living the American Dream, giving back along the way

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Marshall Chay says he is living the American Dream. He came to the United States from South Korea as a child, and always told himself once he found success, he would use it to help others.

He found that success at McDonald’s. Chay started working there at 16 years old, working his way up until he owned six franchises of his own. And he’s kept the promise he made to himself to give back.

Chay has dedicated himself to opening doors for other people and giving them opportunities where someone else might not.

“Any opportunities that we can give back, I'm glad to do that,” Chay said.

When we visited one of Chay’s McDonald’s restaurants on North Avenue in Wauwatosa, we met Jason Visor, who’s one of the people getting that opportunity. Visor recently started as a store manager.

“It means something, man, it means something, man,” Visor said, giving Salvation Army Captain Steve Staneart a big hug on his first day.

It was an emotional start to a new job.

“I took that opportunity seriously,” Visor said. “So now it changed my program, it changed my outlook and it made me hungry.”

Chay works with the Salvation Army’s “Golden Opps” program, which helps people with criminal records and addiction start fresh.

“We have ex-felons who just need a second chance,” Chay said.

Chay said his own life experience has influenced his mindset now.

“My upbringing, we didn't have much, and I remember saying hey, when I become successful, I'm going to give back because there's so many people that are hungry, that needs things,” he said.

Visor said Chay’s example inspires him to work hard to succeed, too.

“Cooking, cleaning, I'm a part of the team, just like anybody else,” Visor said. “Just because I'm a manager, I'm still a part of the team, so whatever need to be done, I'll do it.”

Throughout the pandemic, Chay has also been doing something he calls “McNugget Mondays.” He drops off happy meals for children and their families who are staying at the Ronald McDonald House while getting medical treatment.

“So good, so good, so good,” sang 7-year-old Caroline Woefel as she sat eating her lunch. “Sweet Caroline” is her favorite song, and she said McNuggets are her favorite meal.

“Whenever we're out, I almost always have McDonald’s,” she said.

Bridget Kesner is Director of Philanthropy at Ronald McDonald House.

“Marshall gives with his whole heart,” Kesner said of Chay.

Kesner said Chay’s kindness makes a big difference in the lives of families with sick kids.

“After a long day at the hospital, what am I making for dinner? What are we having? On Mondays we're having McNuggets,” she said. “And we know they're going to be there at 5:15 p.m., and we just get to show up and enjoy dinner.”

These are just a few examples in the long list of good works Chay does.

“You call him up, ‘hey Marshall, you want to be involved in this? Yes, I'm in,’” said SHARP Literacy President and CEO Lynda Kohler. “’Marshall, do you want to do this? I'm in, I'm in.’ But he has to really believe in the mission.”

Kohler has known Chay for years. He currently sits on SHARP’s board, showing his commitment to urban education and literacy.

“Right from the beginning, I just knew he was a really special person and he cared so much,” Kohler said.

Chay helped SHARP with the “Summer Books for Keeps” program. Kids could come into McDonald’s locations and pick up a book, or drop one off.

“I don't think he had a whole lot growing up, and as he continued to build success at the McDonald's, he wanted to give back,” Kohler said.

It’s something Chay does every day, focusing on doing for others, and inspiring others to do the same.

“His energy was terrific,” Visor said. “It made me want to be around that type of person to further my life with.”

Chay is also on the board of the Marcus Performing Arts Center. He supports numerous education programs and has set up a family foundation in honor of his four children.

If you’d like to nominate someone for Natalie’s Everyday Heroes, send Natalie a message at nshepherd@cbs58.com.

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