Local United Way CEO set to step down in 2023

The longtime president and CEO of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington’s (KFL&A) branch of the United Way is stepping down from her role at the end of August.

In a release, United Way’s board of directors announced that Bhavana Varma would be retiring after 24 years of leading the organization’s initiatives in the KFL&A region.

Varma helmed annual fundraising campaigns which have continued to set records year after year in an effort to keep up with the growing number of people in the community who are finding necessities increasingly unaffordable.

Over the past four years under Varma’s leadership, Charity Intelligence Canada has ranked the Kingston area United Way chapter as one of Canada’s top 100 charities out of over 750 registered charitable organizations.

In the release, board chair Mary Rae said Varma leaves a lasting impact and will be missed by the organization.

“We are very sorry to see her go,” Rae said.

“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.”

Varma took the top job in Kingston after working with the United Way in St. Catharines for eight years.

Since taking the job Varma has received the George Hart Award from United Way Centraide Canada – an award meant to recognize staff members who have managed to make a unique impact on their community – as well as numerous 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.

For Varma, the decision to retire from her long standing role comes down to the timing just seeming to be right, and feeling as though the local chapter will continue to make a significant impact without her.

“We’re coming out of the pandemic with great resilience, helping more people and raising more money than ever,” Varma said in the release.

“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.”

A successor has not yet been named but the board has begun its search.