President and CEO of the United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington, Bhavana Varma, is the recipient of the George Hart Award from United Way Centraide Canada (UWCC). The award was presented at the UWCC leadership conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba at a breakfast on Friday, Jun. 3, 2022.
According to a release from the United Way, the award is UWCC’s highest staff honour, with the criteria stating, “it is awarded to an employee of extraordinary distinction on a local or national level. This award is bestowed upon a staff member whose commitment, vision, expertise and leadership have made a unique impact on his or her United Way and community.”
Varma was nominated for the award by staff at United Way KFL&A and the nomination received letters of support from the Board Chair and local dignitaries, according to the release.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Bhavana for nearly eight years as Mayor. She is the definition of a community builder and is someone who deeply cares about the people in this region,” said Kingston Mayor, Bryan Paterson in his letter. “Her leadership was on full display during the pandemic where she was quick to act and helped our region navigate some very challenging moments and at a time when the United Way was needed most.”
Varma and her husband Rakesh immigrated from New Delhi, India to St. Catharines, Ontario early in 1990. Seeking to connect with and give back to her new community Varma took a temporary contract position with the United Way in St. Catharines, according to the release. During her time with the United Way in St. Catharines, the organization said that she held several different positions including roles in the areas of finance, community impact, and fundraising.
In 1999, Varma was recruited to take over as the Chief Executive Officer with the United Way KFL&A, joining a United Way that needed leadership, the organization stated.
“Bhavana created new vision and purpose for the United Way of KFLA in a time in which it desperately needed revitalization,” said Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands, Mark Gerretsen in his letter of support. “My work has been made significantly more meaningful through the projects I am able to work on with leaders like Bhavana. Her wealth of knowledge and insight has been something I have relied upon to better understand the problems faced in our community.”
Over the past 23 years, Varma has led the community to raise over $68 million dollars, according to the release, while also being an active member within the United Way Movement serving on many national committees and working groups.
“Bhavana is a major asset to our organization and the root of our ongoing success,” said United Way KFL&A Board Chair, Patrick Murphy. “Our mantra is that our KFL&A United Way never sleeps. Bhavana is not one to sit back and let things happen. During the early months of COVID-19, Bhavana was front and center working day in and day out with virtual access. She was coordinating emergency funds for the vulnerable, helping the homeless and making sure money was available for food distribution. The United Way never sleeps, and Bhavana Varma doesn’t either!”
According to the release, this recognition and award was a surprise for Bhavana who always puts the spotlight on the community, volunteers and donors well before herself.
“I am humbled and honoured to have received this award, on behalf of this amazing community,” she said. “It is a privilege to work for the United Way movement. This award is a recognition of the amazing dedication and commitment demonstrated by local volunteers, donors, frontline agencies and employees, and for this I am truly grateful.”