Featured in photo: Karin Bileski
March 29, 2019 / Interview By: Nancy Harper, United Way WRC Editorial Content Creator
Changemaker Profile: Karin Bileski
(Principal, Mary Johnston Public School)
Principal knows there’s much more to Beechwood than money and privilege.
Waterloo’s Beechwood may be known for its leafy streets and impressive real estate, but people from all walks of life call this neighbourhood home — and according to Mary Johnston Public School principal Karin Bileski, many of them need the services that United Way funds. As one of about 150 principals in the Waterloo Region District School Board, Karin co-ordinates fundraising efforts for United Way on behalf of the board’s 8,000+ employees.
“We have a surprisingly diverse community with a varied range of high and low resources. We’re always raising funds, but United Way is such a great one because it covers so many agencies that directly connect to the well-being of our students: the after-school tutoring groups, , Big Brothers Big Sisters, CMHA, the YMCA, the food bank, counselling, the Canadian Hearing Society, CNIB, Anselma House …
“As a principal, it’s a comfort and relief to know that our student’s needs are being met in the community as well as at school. Knowing this support is out there gives me 100 percent reason to support the United Way.
“When we think about well-being, we have to ask how we can support and affirm students in all areas — cognitive, emotional, physical — and connecting with the agencies that the United Way supports can only help with that. The conditions of learning are really important for kids. When they come to school hungry or someone in their house is mentally unwell, they have to have all their needs met before learning begins. So if we can get them hooked up with food bank or counselling, we know they’re going to fare well. We see these kids every day. We see the need, and we are all about helping the whole child.
“It motivates me and my co-chair, Forest Hill Public School principal Brad Hughes, to encourage all the other principals to help their staff think about the direct impact. We send out a lot of communications to the board and we meet regularly with senior administration because we want to connect with as many people as we can. Our main job is to get the message out to 8,000 board employees on how important it is to support United Way.
“Really, this is a giving community. We have a devoted donor group that has stayed consistent, and it’s not just teachers, it’s education assistants, custodians, ECE workers, secretaries. Our goal is always to add donors, and the littlest thing makes a big difference. Don’t think that a dollar isn’t much. It’s exponential.”