"There's a desperate shame in poverty"

September 13, 2019 / Interview By: Nancy Harper, United Way WRC Editorial Content Creator

People of United Way Profile: Janet Boyd
(Senior Administrative Assistant to the Commissioner, Community Services)

South African-Born Canadian Urges Colleagues To Help Ease The Burden​.

From her Region of Waterloo office on Regina Street, Janet Boyd has laid down a challenge to her colleagues at Region offices in Cambridge and Kitchener to raise as much as they can for those who need it most. Janet is competitive by nature, so whether it’s gift-basket raffles, an ongoing gift-card bonanza, food trucks, pizza days, pumpkin carving or cookie sales, her United Way fundraising committee will take it on.​

“I have some experience of needing a hand up in life. I grew up in South Africa. My sister and I had an ‘a-ha moment’ recently and we realized it was because we didn’t have money when we were kids.

“My dad had lost his business. We lost our home. We had to rely on family and friends for housing, for food, for clothing — for everything for a while, really. People who haven’t had to deal with that don’t understand. There’s a desperate shame in poverty, a terrible sense of embarrassment when you’re struggling, and that sticks with you forever. Watching the stress on my parents was so hard.

“In South Africa, we don’t have anything like the United Way. I call it your soft place to fall when you’re having a hard time. There are so many people who don’t have the same blessings we do. It could be your neighbours, your friends, your school mates. It could be anyone.

“At the Region of Waterloo, we work with the more vulnerable members of the population so that ties in very nicely with the work United Way does. I’ve been here for a while and donated on my payroll, the same as everybody else. I did it because it seemed like the right thing to do. I never really gave it much thought — I figured everybody else is doing it and it seems pretty easy, so that’s great. Then I was approached by the fundraising committee at the Region. My boss and I were chatting about it and he strongly suggested I get involved. I joined, then I was invited to a day of training with the United Way. We had an impact speaker and all of a sudden I knew more about what the United Way does.

“When I start something, I have to go crazy and do everything. I have a competitive nature — I want to beat our head office and raise more money! In this building, I’ve decided that people need to know about United Way all the time. I send out emails a couple of times a month saying, “this is what’s coming up, this is what your money is doing for people.” Little things that hopefully make it a little more personal for people so they understand what their contributions are doing. And for me personally, it makes more sense to run United Way functions all year — say one a month — to keep the message top of mind for everybody. People are becoming more aware and they’re definitely becoming more supportive. I’m hoping to spark a little bit of competitiveness [with the other Region offices] when they see we’re doing better than they are!”

- Janet Boyd


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