People of United way WRC

Bill Conway

"You get this sense of carrying the torch"

Rockwell Automation project manager Bill Conway has lived in Cambridge his whole life, and says it’s been a huge eye-opener to find out what happens inside some of the buildings he’s been driving past every day for years.

Rockwell Automation Canada project manager Bill Conway was already well aware of the need in this community when he joined a United Way fundraising committee six years ago.

He had a social conscience. He had some extra time and figured it was the right thing to do. So he started helping out in small ways wherever he could.

Then he went on a United Way Seeing Is Believing tour, and what he saw prompted him to dive in deep — to the point where Bill is now the staunchest United Way advocate at the 500-employee Cambridge arm of Rockwell Automation.

“The first stop on that Seeing is Believing tour was a literacy agency,” Bill says. “I was just astounded at how many people — including those who have grown up in Canada — were not functionally literate, even those who had gone through our whole education system. The effects on them: unemployment, not being able to read a contract, not being able to read the newspaper… I was impressed by the people there who were committed to trying to help.”

Also on the tour were a food bank and an agency that helps people with mental-health issues. The attention paid to the whole person was what really hit home.

“These were all places that I drive by every day,” Bill says. “You just don’t even realize what’s going on behind these doors. It makes you stop and think. If the money doesn’t go to these organizations, they simply wouldn’t exist. There’s very little funding otherwise for a community centre or a literacy program or a food bank to keep going to meet the demand. It’s the sort of thing we all take for granted, but these organizations make a difference and they’re doing it on a pretty limited budget, which is always amazing.

“That tour motivated me to do more and be more involved. The next year, the person who’d been running the campaign for many years asked if I wanted to do it. As a project manager, I’m used to leading and coordinating, so it felt like a natural fit and a way I could help more.

“We’re fortunate here at Rockwell that our jobs our pretty secure and the wages are good. There are so many in the community who aren’t doing as well, so I always felt it was important to help.”

If he didn’t know it at the time, Bill certainly knows now about the incredible partnership Rockwell Automation has had with United Way for many decades, and the big shoes he’s having to fill. Over the past 15 years, employees have raised more than $2 million for United Way — and now their Cambridge employees are motivated to do even more.

“You get this sense of carrying the torch,” Bill says. “There’s a bit of a legacy here because Rockwell has been such an avid supporter of the United Way for so many years. Even now when I see retired people at events, they’ll often ask: ‘How did the campaign go this year?’ They may have left the company, but there’s still a certain pride that this is still going on.”

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Rockwell Automation’s annual United Way fundraising campaign in October is big. But there are always other ways to get creative, and every little bit helps. There are the jersey days, fun activities like Minute to Win It, and the always-popular silent auction. This year, there were a whopping 170 items up for grabs — generously donated by employees, suppliers and Rockwell itself — including coveted tickets to the Maple Leafs and Raptors.

This year, Bill says, United Way’s “Are You the One?” campaign really resonated with employees.

There were presentations in the cafeteria, posters and flyers to get the message out, and connections being made from the top of the organization on down. One of the most jarring statistics — that one in five kids in Waterloo Region don’t graduate from high school — really affected his staff.

“A lot of people with their own children think of that — because in this day and age, without a high school education you’re not going to get very far,” Bill says.

“We’re really just trying to show people where the money goes and the organizations that are being supported. We’re trying to make that connection that these organizations are right here in our neighbourhood and perhaps they can recognize that they have helped them or their families or fellow employees.”

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