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Change Starts Here

Putting donations to work

With so many charitable organizations seeking public support, donors want to know “how much of my donation actually gets to the people who need it?”

United Way helps both non-profit organizations and businesses to achieve their community goals, by providing a hand up. As a broad network with 64 years of history serving the Central Okanagan, the organization leverages many types of resources so that the benefit to the community exceeds the initial investment.

Pathways Abilities Society, one of United Way’s longest-standing partner agencies, is a great example of leveraging partnerships and resources. Recently, the charity applied to United Way for grant funding to help with an important goal: building relationships with local businesses in order to increase employment opportunities for adults with diverse abilities. United Way provided a grant of $5000 towards this project, but the value to the community was much higher thanks to everyone who got involved.

Creating employment opportunities for persons with diverse abilities is about more than wages or job descriptions; it starts with knowing that every person brings unique abilities and needs to their work.  When a person with a disability seeks work, they face both practical challenges (such as a need for equipment to be adapted) and attitudinal barriers (such as stereotypes).

With growing labour shortages in our region and an aging work force, groups that have not traditionally been top of mind for employers are an untapped resource. Persons with diverse abilities are ready and able to work. Their contributions make our communities better places to live; whether they are providing recycling services, helping people with grocery purchases at the supermarket checkout, or creating wooden fencing and boxes for birds and bees, the individuals employed through Pathways are an integral part of our local work scene.

Katarina Gerhardt began working for Home Depot in Kelowna April of 2012 in a seasonal position in the garden center.  Katarina’s friendly and caring personality is a natural match for a customer service job.  She quickly demonstrated an aptitude for sales.  Katarina continued on with part time work at the store after the gardening season ended and has been there ever since.  Katarina is a valued member of the Home Depot team. 

Myrna Park of Century 21 Assurance Reality Ltd, a United Way volunteer, is an employer that understands the benefit of hiring individuals who have diverse abilities.  Myrna has developed a partnership with Pathways and has created several jobs for people in her place of business.  Two people are employed part time to complete tasks around the office: cleaning, watering plants, shredding, and dusting.  Two other men are employed seasonally for yard maintenance.

To increase the impact of funding and achieve greater results, United Way also invites people with diverse abilities to share their stories during presentations with local business leaders, workplaces and service clubs. One of United Way’s workplace campaign coordinators volunteered with the group of self-advocates, drawing on his public speaking training to help them improve their storytelling skills.

United Way is much more than a funder. When Pathways Abilities Society was planning community focus groups as part of their employment project, United Way was able to blast the information out to the entire network of non-profits, businesses, and private individuals who comprise the movement for change, reaching thousands of people who have the ability to get involved.

A gift to United Way can mean giving, volunteering, or acting to create a better community for everyone. 100% of every gift results in impact, being compounded by other gifts, to deliver even higher returns from the initial investment. Since impact is multiplied by many hands working together, lives improve every day.  That’s the United Way.


Column submitted by Avril Paice, Director of Community Investment, United Way of the Central and South Okanagan Similkameen


Volunteers are indispensable

It’s fitting that April is the month that we nationally recognize our volunteers: spring brings to mind images of flowers blooming, new growth and with it, new opportunities. Volunteers in turn breathe new life into non-profit organizations like United Way, providing helping hands, friendly faces, welcoming presence and opportunities for us to reach further and grow more within our communities.

Time is one of our most precious commodities and the decision to donate our time to support an organization as a volunteer should be thoughtfully considered. Some points that may impact your decision could include: your ability to commit, how the volunteer role will match your skill set, what is the readiness of the organization to involve volunteers and does the volunteer role provide meaning to your life and will it create personal impact.


Your ability to commit:  Can I really show up – that is, really take the time to fulfill the expectations of the volunteer role? Volunteers are a serious and essential part of non-profit organizations and the work that they do. If you say you will help, can your truly do that – and be honest about this.

How does the volunteer role match your skill set:  Doing a bit of research about the organization and speaking to people within it should assist in this process. If you find that the organization you’re researching isn’t a good fit, don’t worry, there are plenty of other organizations that could be.

What is the readiness of the organization to involve volunteers: The non-profit world, just like any other business, can be a bit messy at times. Regardless, if they are asking for help, they should have some fundamental processes in place to make volunteers feel valued. Position descriptions, orientation and training processes and some sort of policy or strategy to integrate volunteers into their work should be in place before you agree to donate your time.

Does the volunteer role give some meaning or impact to you personally:  Let’s face it, not all volunteer work is glamorous – sometimes what is needed, is answering phones, greeting people and yes, even stuffing envelopes. But just like any other work, what you get out of it, depends on what you put into it. Making a conscious decision to truly own what you do can make an impact on you and others.


United Way volunteers are indeed indispensable. Most of our organization is composed of volunteers and so we take our volunteers and their roles seriously. We offer several different opportunities that can be intrinsically rewarding to you: organizing a Workplace Campaign, joining one of United Ways’ committees, help us at one of our Special Events, becoming UW Ambassador for our Days of Caring®, contributing your skills to assist us in our office – the choice is yours.

Success through connection

Connection is a necessary element for living a healthy and successful life. When we are connected to other people and our community, we feel supported, listened to and valued. When we are connected to other people, our struggles, challenges and obstacles appear more manageable and life is brighter. At its core, Kelowna Community Resources (KCR) strives to build connections between individuals, families, community organizations, social supports and the greater community and is proud to be a part of Sachie and Doris’ story.

Sachie and Doris arrived in the Central Okanagan with their families approximately two years ago. Although they immigrated at different times from different countries and to different parts of Canada, both acknowledged that initially, adjusting to life in Canada was very difficult. When asked what advice they would give to someone who has just immigrated to Canada, Sachie and Doris shared, “There will be lots of cultural shock, and the first few years will be tough, but by keeping a positive attitude, an open mind and refusing to give up, things will get better.”

Upon arriving in the Central Okanagan, both Doris and Sachie started meeting with Settlement Workers at KCR, where they received support and information about adjusting to life in the Central Okanagan and Canada. It was at a job preparation workshop organized by Kelowna Community Resources where Doris and Sachie first met.  After the workshop, they met for coffee, where they first discovered many mutual interests including the environmental aftermath of Fukushima nuclear disaster. What was intended to be a brief visit turned into a multi-hour conversation as they discussed their shared passions. They continue to meet for coffee, have started arranging play dates for their children and regularly attend the monthly International Potluck Night at KCR’s Gathering Place program.

Regarding their friendship, Doris told me, “I feel a connection with Sachie. While I was getting used to Canada, I felt like I had lost a part of my personality and had not been able to find such a deep friendship in Canada until I met Sachie. Sachie supports me a lot and is so positive, she really helps me to focus on what I can do to make myself happier.” Similarly, Sachie has nothing but kind words for Doris, saying “Her unique stories and experiences bring spice into my life.” Both also acknowledged the important role that KCR played in their adjustment. “ I am very grateful for all of the workers’ help,” quotes Doris.  

With time, perseverance, friendship and connecting with organizations such as KCR, Sachie and Doris have overcome many of the challenges of starting a new life somewhere different and are happy to call Canada their home.


Parent conference filling a need

Success by 6®, as a United Way impact initiative, focuses on supporting preventative health and development programs for children six years of age or less and their families.   Amanda Turner is the Success by 6 Coordinator and a mother of two boys.


Ever questioned whether you are doing the “right” thing as a parent? Have you Googled whether a behaviour your child is doing is “normal”? Do you find more confusing information, opinions and tips than you know what to do with? Well, welcome to parenthood!

Since the dawn of time parents have questioned their abilities, skills and knowledge to raise the next generation. In times past, extended families had a large role in supporting new parents, mostly new moms, in their exponentially increased tasks with an infant in the house. Grandmothers, aunties, neighbours and friends were on hand with casseroles as well as tips, support and answers about what works.

While times have changed, babies and children still do not come with instruction manuals. These days, many families no longer live near extended family and are less surrounded by the community of support needed to cope with raising young children. On top of that, the world has changed, parents are dealing with different questions and concerns than their parents did.  Today they are facing more financial pressure, increased expectations, increased marketing toward children, cyber-bullying, social media and screen addictions at ever younger ages.

While all families are comprised with different people and are facing different challenges, the fact is that parents have a desire to do their best and to raise their children to their best potential - that ties all parents together.

The new Okanagan Parent Conference is focusing on these ties that bind. The conference will be taking place on Saturday, April 5th and will feature speakers and topics geared toward all parents with children from infant to pre-teen. Parents will be able to register mid-February for the one-day conference which will offer child-minding, lunch, keynote address, and your choice of workshops all for a bargain price. The Okanagan Parent Conference is sponsored by the Credit Unions of BC and is being presented by Success by 6 along with local credit unions and community partners.

For more information or to register head to

Read more Change Starts Here articles

About the Author

The mission of United Way is to improve lives and build community by engaging individuals and mobilizing collective action. We call this our community impact mission. Community impact is about achieving meaningful, long-term improvements to the quality of life in Canadian communities, by addressing not just the symptoms of problems but also getting at the root causes. It’s about making fundamental changes to community conditions. United Way is achieving this mission by moving people from poverty to possibility, promoting healthy people and strong communities, and supporting all that kids can be.


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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