United Way KFLA CEO to step down after 24 years as top administrator

Photo via the United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington.

Bhavana Varma, president and CEO of United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (KFLA), will step down at the end of August after serving as the top administrator at the agency for 24 years.

The United Way KFLA’s board of directors made the announcement on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, noting that under Varma’s leadership, the agency became known for its record annual fundraising campaigns, which involved wide community and workplace participation. According to a release from the agency, it has been ranked among the top 100 Canadian charities for the past four consecutive years by Charity Intelligence Canada, a registered charity that assesses over 750 Canadian charitable organizations.

Throughout her tenure, Varma was also personally recognized with numerous national and civic awards, including the George Hart Award from United Way Centraide Canada, which is bestowed on a staff member whose commitment, vision, expertise, and leadership have made a unique impact on their United Way and community.

“We are very sorry to see her go,” said board chair Mary Rae. “Bhavana has worked tirelessly for the United Way, and she’s leaving our organization with a very strong foundation on which to build the future. I thank Bhavana for her leadership, passion and commitment to the community. She will be missed.”

The board said they have begun a search to find her successor.

Varma, who worked for the St. Catharines & District United Way for eight years before accepting the top Kingston job, said it’s been an honour to serve as head of United Way of KFL&A.

“I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such amazing board members, volunteers, staff, agencies and partners for 24 years in this wonderful region. The board and I will continue to work together to ensure a smooth transition into the fall,” she stated.

Varma is a recipient of both the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Award and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. She has also received many local awards, including the Jim Bennett Achievement Award from Queen’s University, the Legacy Award from the Chamber of Commerce and Kingston Economic Development, and the Kingston & District Labour Council Community Advocate Award. She was recently named Honourary Colonel with the 77 Line Regiment at CFB Kingston.

The time to leave just feels right, Varma said. “We’re coming out of the pandemic with great resilience, helping more people and raising more money than ever,” she said. “Also, and just as significantly, we have built wonderful working relationships and partnerships geared to understanding our area’s greatest needs, and have invested where we can do the most good.”

Varma made it clear she is not retiring, but instead is “looking forward to the next phase” of her journey. In a LinkedIn post, she shared, “After this, I will continue with some initiatives and will see what new opportunities may emerge. I also hope to travel, spend more time with my husband, visit family and friends – and I definitely plan on continuing to live in Kingston.”

The United Way of KFL&A has grown significantly under Varma’s leadership, the agency stated. According to the release, in addition to raising record amounts of money in its annual campaign, the agency has attracted significant new sources of revenue from government and other organizations in support of critical human-service programs in the region.

With Varma in the lead, the agency said it has helped identify and develop important community initiatives including the plan to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness, the Homelessness Collective Impact Committee and the Social Recovery Taskforce. The most recent achievements developed during the pandemic include the launch in 2022 of the Community Food Redistribution Warehouse, the Portable Outreach Care Hub, the Youth Mental Health Peer Support Program and A Great Start For Families: Kahwà:Tsire Ronwatiyenawá:Se Centre. 

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