Introducing the 2018 Spirit Award nominees

United Way Waterloo Region Communities is proud to work with, and through a dedicated list of individuals, organizations, volunteers and agencies. The 2018 Spirit Awards will honour the efforts of all those partners as we move toward our fall campaign.

Nominations revealed for 2018 Spirit Awards

Inspiring examples of Waterloo Region’s community spirit.

The first Spirit Awards presented by the newly integrated United Way Waterloo Region Communities ( will be presented on Thursday, April 25th, at 64 Grand Avenue South in Cambridge, in the Gaslight District.

More than 30 individuals and organizations have been nominated for a Spirit Award in eight distinct categories, including the inaugural Community Leader Award. This award will recognize an exemplary leader who, through extraordinary contributions and outstanding commitment, has driven the spirit of community through personal involvement and initiative.

“We are very excited about this year’s Spirit Awards” says CEO Joan Fisk. “It is not only an opportunity to honour our incredible donors and community members, but a chance to introduce our newly integrated organization. We will also be showcasing our new campaign that will help bring our message to the Waterloo Region Communities and pave the way to the launch of our fundraising campaign on September 17th.

United Way Waterloo Region Communities was formed via the integration of United Way organizations in Kitchener-Waterloo and Area and Cambridge-North Dumfries. The new organization now operates from the very center of the region, at Sportsworld Crossing.

The awards highlight small, medium and large businesses which have shown support and innovation for United Way as well as individuals and supported agencies that have gone above and beyond in working together to address the important issues in our society.

Fisk says all the nominees have shown an exemplary dedication to improving their community through United Way and its partner agencies as well as building a culture where philanthropy and caring can thrive.

The Spirit Awards will be handed out on April 25th,  in the Gaslight District of Cambridge at 64 Grand Avenue S.     Tickets are going fast.  You can click here to reserve yours.



2018 Spirit Award Nominees

Rising Star- Honouring an organization which has shown growth in its United Way Campaign


  • Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro
  • Equitable Life of Canada
  • NewGround
  • Peak Realty
  • Local Health Integration Network

Labour Community Partnership-Celebrating an outstanding relationship between labour and United Way


  • United Food and Commercial Workers Local 175/633
  • Waterloo Regional Labour Council
  • Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario Waterloo Region and Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario Waterloo Region Occasional Teachers
  • Waterloo Regional Police Association
  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 636

Spirit of Community-honouring an individual or United Way committee whose efforts have raised awareness of the work of United Way


  • Pumpkin Queen of Cambridge  , Kara Klypycz
  • Chris Prosser, The Literacy Group
  • John Neufeld, House of Friendship
  • Tracey Elop, Carizon
  • Julie Phillips, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Waterloo Region
  • Clarion Medical Technologies
  • Regional Municipality of Waterloo United Way Committee

Outstanding Workplace Campaign (Large Organization)


  • Sun Life Financial
  • Manulife
  • Royal Bank of Canada
  • Energy+ Inc.
  • Liquor Control Board of Ontario
  • Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada

Outstanding Workplace Campaign (Small to Mid-Size Organization)



  • P&H Milling Group
  • Lackner McLennan Insurance Ltd. and Erb & Erb Insurance Brokers
  • Deluxe Payroll
  • KW Counselling Services
  • Langs 

Outstanding Volunteer Contribution 


  • Michael Schmitt and Deb Zettel-Schmitt
  • Lorraine Worth & Barb Jones
  • Jaye Kuntz
  • Norma McDonald-Ewing
  • Gore Hearts in Action
  • Deb Lindsay

Outstanding Agency


  • The Literacy Group
  • Kinbridge
  • Carizon
  • Cambridge Self-Help Foodbank
  • Community Support Connections Meals on Wheels and More
  • YMCA

Focus on Volunteering: March 2018

Family Volunteering    

Kevin Sharpen and his son Noah are dedicated volunteers at Pinehurst Lake Park. It’s a home-away-from-home for their family. Every summer for over 15 years, their family trailer is parked at the small spring-fed lake north of Paris, Ontario for the season.

His grandparents have camped at Pinehurst every summer. Memories of the popular park fill his lifetime. Kevin has found many ways to give back and encourage others to engage in park stewardship. Once people are interested in volunteering, they are connected to GRCA Volunteer Coordinator, who helps to match interests and talents with volunteer positions.

“Most people who camp at Pinehurst come to know the staff. Kevin is no exception,” observes Pinehurst Superintendent Brad Straus. “But what sets him apart, is he never takes Pinehurst for granted. He and his family have a passion for this place and really appreciate what it offers. Kevin is unique because he doesn’t just think about why the park is special to him. He wants to share it with others. You can tell that his volunteer involvement is just something that feels right to him without even thinking about it.”

His involvement started gradually, as he encouraged Pinehurst staff to set up geocaches within the park, and he and his son did the same to make it a great place for geocaching.

Then, he initiated a new type of geocache for the park.  Instead of using an app or GPS to find a hidden container, Kevin enlisted help from family and friends to hold Cache in Trash Out (CITO) events at the park each spring just before it opened. At a CITO event, garbage is the find instead of a cache. This type of event is held by geocachers at many locations each year so they can improve the geocaching game board —which just happens to be our planet.

“For my son and I, geocaching is our favourite thing to do. We partnered with the staff at Pinehurst Lake to do CITO, a cleanup event for the past three years,” Sharpen explains.

During that time cleanup participants, including campers, the public and geocachers, have collected so much trash each year that it is becoming a little more difficult to find trash. Even the most concealed garbage is disappearing from the park.

This year on Sunday, April 29, the event is expanding to nearby Wrigley and Bannister Lakes which are also owned by the GRCA and managed by the staff at Pinehurst. People who would like to assist this year can find details and register online at

Kevin and his son have also hosted an introduction to geocaching activity at Discovery Day, an annual park event that welcomed around 2,000 people each year.

“Pinehurst Lake and surrounding trails are for everyone. Our goal is to create a sense of community among all visitors and Kevin shares this goal. Volunteer cleanups can make a big difference,” explains Straus.

“We know the park well, we’ve made friends here and we love the area. For us it’s giving back to the thing we love most,” Kevin says.

If you are part of a group that would like to hold a volunteer event at a GRCA property, learn about our volunteer program at

To experience the benefits of volunteerism, like Kevin, search the online Volunteer Opportunities Database at  or call the Volunteer Centre at 519-621-1030, ext. 234.

What’s Next? The Needle and the Damage Done.

Just over a week ago, GenNext and United Way Waterloo Region Communities hosted “The Needle and the Damage Done”, an honest and frank discussion of the opioid issue in Waterloo Region and across the country.

You can see some coverage of the event broadcast on CTV.

More than 100 people attended the evening, which featured a half dozen panelists with an incredible array of information and experiences. Following the discussion, audience members were invited to ask their own questions, and many responded.

United Way Waterloo Region Communities is also responding, with the establishment of its Opioid Fund.

CEO Joan Fisk says the fund is the newest part of a changing United Way.  “It’s the first of our “targeted funding” solutions” says Fisk.   As issues change, Fisk says organizations such as United Way need to have the resources to be able to react.

“This fund is being established to invest in programs and services which will enhance and support prevention and education programs for young people”

She says some of those programs may already exist, or the funds could be used to support a new initiative which needs a firm footing.

It’s all part of what she calls a “more agile and responsive” United Way.   Donations to the opioid fund will be invested in the community within a few months.

Fisk says the organization has gone through an integration process over the past year, and emerged with a clear role.  “We are here” she says “to support the work of our partners through fundraising…..and through those programs to support people who need help in our region”

Fisk says other funds could also be created as needs emerge, but the Opioid Fund is the first for people who are looking to make a personal impact on an issue of immediate importance.

You can donate to the fund at this link   Please ensure you type the words OPIOID FUND in the comments box

If you have any questions, we will be happy to answer them at communications@uwaywrc,ca or via telephone at 888-6100




United Way maintains community funding.

“We care, because you care.”

United Way begins work towards reinvigorating our community.

(Waterloo Region) –February 9, 2018

One year after integrating into a region wide United Way, the CEO is pledging a new era of transparency, accountability and co-operation.

Speaking to more than 30 United Way partner agencies earlier this week, Joan Fisk said:

“Our strength, relies on your strength, and we are committed to helping you provide the services people need to escape from poverty in our region”

United Way Waterloo Region Communities set a goal to raise 7 million dollars this fiscal year.  Fisk says the community has already collected more funds this year than last, with more coming in every day. However there remains a significant gap to bridge in order to meet that goal.

In addition, Board Chair Mike Williams is pleased to announce United Way will maintain the current level of funding to the community.

Six months after taking over as CEO, Fisk says United Way is positioning itself toward the future.

United Way remains the largest funder of social service programs outside of government in Canada.

“That reminds us “says Fisk, “of how critical it is to re-introduce ourselves”

In the next few months, she adds, United Way WRC will be rolling out a new and unique message.

“We have a very ambitious goal “says Fisk.   “We plan to raise 10 million dollars in 2019”

This goal will enhance support for the important programs our partners are currently providing, as well as bolstering programs with targeted funds on specific issues.

“Our government does so much” adds Fisk, “but the capacity at all levels is limited”

Board Member Ingrid Pregel puts it this way “At the end of the day, If not United Way, then who?”

GenNext-The Needle and the Damage Done

“I sing the song because I love the man, I know that some of you won’t understand”- Neil Young, The Needle and the Damage Done.

Neil Young’s iconic song was written more than 40 years ago, describing the destruction he saw even among his own friends from heroin addiction.

It resonates today as Waterloo Region deals with the aftermath of opioid use.

In 2017 more than 70 people died from overdoses.   Governments of all levels are working on a response, while people try to understand exactly what is happening.

GenNext Waterloo Region invites you to learn more about the issue at our February 8th event: The Needle and the Damage Done.

We’ll have a diverse and interesting group of panelists on hand to answer your questions including

Christine Padaric, from Moms stop the Harm and Overdose Canada.   We’ll sharing more about the story of this local advocate as we get closer to the date, but you’ll understand a mother who lost her son to a drug overdose has a powerful message.

Also on hand will be Bill Kirby from For a Better Cambridge     Bill is also a member of the City of Cambridge Community Outreach task force.   This grassroots group is working to ensure all voices are heard in the discussion.

Patrick Boot will join us from Overlap Associates    We invited Patrick because of the way his organization helps individuals and groups use empathy to solve big problems.

Violet Umanetz will also take part, representing Sanguen Health Centre    Sanguen has years of experience in dealing with vulnerable populations.

We need you too.  We want to hear your voice, and your questions.

“The Needle and the Damage Done” begins at 5:30 pm in the Communitech space at the Tannery.

You can register by following this link.


Making a Move

In April of 2017 we began the integration of United Way KW and Area and United Way Cambridge North Dumfries in to the new United Way Waterloo Region Communities.

Since that time we have been operating in two separate locations.  Understandably this causes some challenges to create a cohesive team.    Having every one of our staff members in one place, able to access all our resources at the same time is important, and much more efficient.

So, we are moving!

During the week of January 15th, we are packing up our Cambridge office on Thompson Drive, and our Waterloo location on Erb Street in Uptown Waterloo for new digs, at 50 Sportsworld Crossing.  We’ll be smack in the middle of the Region, which is fitting considering our services stretch right across so many communities.

Any move is stressful–it’s difficult enough when we are packing up our own homes.   But moving two offices into a single locations comes with its own particular set of —well—let’s call them opportunities!

While our phones will remain in service for much of next week, there may be some changes.  Calls to many of our staff may be rerouted to the cell phones for a day or so.  In addition, our donation servers may be unavailable for a few days, beginning on Tuesday January 16th.   We do expect them to be fully operational by Monday January 22nd.





Volunteers Power Affordable Housing.

 Each month United Way WRC, along with some of our media partners shines the spotlight on a local volunteer.  There are hundreds of opportunities for you to make a difference.  Our Kristen Feduck tells the story of Bryan Shows.

For many of us, our home is an anchor.   It’s a sanctuary where we can relax and create memories. But for others, that shelter is unstable and a reminder of the difficult path they face every day. There are people working right here to shore up those situations, and help change the power of poverty.

When Bryan Shows retired he was looking for a way to get involved in the community and give back. When he looked up local volunteering opportunities, he couldn’t believe the variety of positions available and the number of local agencies that had a real need for volunteers in order to make their work possible. Bryan chose Habitat for Humanity Waterloo Region and in just under one year, has logged over 250 volunteer hours.  In this time, he has become one of the key volunteers at the Cambridge ReStore, a retail store that accepts donations of used, discontinued items and salvageable building materials donated by manufacturers, contractors and individuals. Whether he is sweeping, building furniture, arranging displays or interacting with customers, Bryan is making a positive impact in the organization and the community as a whole.

Habitat for Humanity brings communities together to help families build strength, stability and independence through affordable home ownership. This mandate is even more important as affordable housing becomes increasingly difficult to find in Waterloo Region. It’s not only those living in poverty who can’t afford to own their own home, but also individuals and couples who work full-time, but just don’t have enough money left over at the month to save for a down payment.

Through the dedication of volunteers like Bryan the organization is able to make this mission a reality. Bryan says the acknowledgement of volunteers gives him a particularly warm feeling. He notes that both staff and management at the Cambridge ReStore thank him after every shift.

Bryan is quick to point out that the organization is not the only one that benefits from the arrangement: “Volunteering offers me the opportunity to put both my time and experience to use, assist where I can in helping newer volunteers get up to speed, gaining new knowledge myself, and finally appreciating that what I do and learn here is making a difference.”



To experience the benefits of volunteerism, like Bryan, search the online Volunteer Opportunities Database at  or call the Volunteer Centre at 519-621-1030, ext. 234.

Tax Time-Preparation is key

As we move into the first few days of the New Year, it’s time to start thinking about your tax return.   As a registered charity, United Way Waterloo Region Communities provides receipts for donation made during the calendar year.      If you’re among our supporters who make donations through payroll deduction, your T4 Slip should state the amount.   That information should be contained in Box 46 on your slip.


We have already started sending out some receipts to supporters, and will continue that process for the next few weeks.   If you do not receive a receipt for a 2017 donation please contact our office.

This page provides some excellent information to help you understand charitable donations and the tax system.

People can often be confused about what documents they might need to claim a charitable deduction.   Canada Revenue makes that information available on its website.

If you would like to make a donation for next year’s tax return, it’s never too early.  Just follow this link to learn about how you can support United Way, and reduce your tax bill for 2018

As always, individual situations can vary greatly, and we encourage you to discuss your personal concerns with a tax professional.


Poverty is not inevitable

Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is manmade, and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life-Nelson Mandela

At a time of instant reaction, the mere mention of the word poverty can bring up some divisive discussions.

That’s true of any issue these days.   Witness the conversation around the coming legalization of marijuana, or visit the comments section below any article about the region’s Light Rail Transit project.

We seem to live in a most cynical time, expecting the worst from each other.   Even if that other person might be living a similar life.    Here’s an interesting article on that phenomenon

It doesn’t mean we’re not looking for good in the world.   Maybe even desperately so, if the popularity of Fiona the Hippo is any indication.

And perhaps that’s why, at this time of year, the story of a good Samaritan touches us all.

Mr Mandela’s quote has been analyzed extensively since he spoke in 2005.    But at the very base of it, he encourages us to work together to solve a problem.

It was some 25 years ago, actually, closer to 30 when our federal government pledged to end child poverty in Canada.   By the year 2000.  And here we are.     1 in 10 people in Waterloo Region live below the low income threshold.

Maybe you’re one of those people who believes people who are poor….are “just lazy”    Or perhaps, those on Ontario Works are spending their monthly amounts on items you don’t consider necessities.   We’ve touched on some of those thoughts in a previous blog.

But there is movement.

Ontario is experimenting with a guaranteed minimum income.   The federal government just recently announced a new National Housing Strategy

These will take time.    But today, we can take action to move people out of poverty, to ensure the services they need are available at every step along the way.    You can donate right now


December 6: Remember and Act.

It has been almost 30 years since the horrific attack at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, where 14 women were murdered.   Just because they were women.

This article, from Raise the Hammer provides plenty of information on the issues surrounding violence against women.

The Canadian Foundation for Women also has an insightful piece on the number of women in poverty, and why that’s a particularly important segment of the discussion.

United Way Waterloo Region Communities supports dozens of agencies and programs touching almost every part of the region.

Many of them have a straight line connection to women who suffer abuse— places like Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region but many others also have a part to play.  Organizations providing counseling for individuals and families or providing support to children when their home life begins to implode.

It’s all part of what we call a “network of services”.   We know people will often access more than one service…..from a shelter, to a food bank to counseling. United Way exists to ensure that network is in place.

United Way is also there to provide information on the services anyone might need.    Locally, and across the country we fund the 211 …..  Available over the phone–with the 211 code—or online 211 is a directory  which can point you in the right direction no matter what kind of help is required.

On this day of remembrance and mourning, we ask you to take action.   Whether that’s by donating to your local women’s shelter, or any other organization you support, or by volunteering, or by lending a supportive ear, you can truly make a difference.