In Katrina Kaiser’s world, there are no borders when it comes to helping others.
The young woman recently returned from a two-month sojourn to Uganda where she worked at an emergency orphanage.
“People are people no matter where they are,” said the 22-year-old Penticton resident earlier this week. “Going to Uganda was an amazing, really eye-opening experience and I think it’s important to be involved in any kind of community building whether it’s locally or internationally.
“And at the end of the day, if I have helped someone in a small way, that’s the important thing. I know that I can’t really change the world but I can make it a little bit better.”
It was that caring nature and compassion that landed her the temporary position with the United Way South Okanagan Similkameen during the current campaign, which kicked off with Thursday’s breakfast at the Ramada Inn.
“The United Way is basically a continuation of what I want to do,” said Kaiser. “It’s another chance to give back and support vulnerable people in this community because problems are not just something that exist in a Third World country.”
But she is also sure the recent experiences in the post-civil war African nation will benefit her in the coming months of the campaign.
“I also got to see just how resilient people, especially the children, can be in spite of those difficult conditions — knowing whatever you do will make a difference and I’m sure that’s the same here,” said Kaiser, who has also worked at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. “I wanted the experience of going abroad and seeing how people live, to see the similarities and differences and what we can learn from different cultures and they from us.”
Insp. Brad Haugli of the Penticton RCMP is chairing this year’s campaign and believes Kaiser’s recent work will be a key component of her success.
“Katrina’s got a lot of world experience and she’s seen exactly what it’s like elsewhere in the world and how you can help at the ground level and make a difference,” said Haugli.
This year’s goal is $160,000. The previous campaign raised just over $157,000, well above the $140,000 target.
Since she began her job (funded by ICBC) at the local office, much of Kaiser’s time has been spent travelling throughout the region to see first-hand the impact of the United Way-sponsored services.
In particular, one trip with a Meals on Wheels driver stood out in her mind.
“The lady I was driving with used to work at a retirement home, and the lady she was delivering the meal to was a volunteer at that home at the same time,” said the Penticton Secondary grad.
“It was almost a reversal of roles, and it showed how important it is to give back because in the future you could be needing these volunteers in your life.
“That lady was so grateful for the nutritious meals provided for her because she is unable to cook for herself.”
Haugli, too, has witnessed first hand the benefits of United Way-supported programs.
“Unfortunately with the police we see a lot of tragedy and we’re there to deal with it at the beginning stages. However, behind the scenes when it comes to trauma counselling and support for victims of crime, I’ve seen our community partners at the ground level,” he said. “They engage in supporting not only the vulnerable sector, being women and children, but also people who are less fortunate.
“Being directly involved with United Way, I get to see and hear the happiness and support from our community partners who say a lot of times if they didn’t have United Way funding, a lot of programs wouldn’t exist.”
About 150 people attended the launch breakfast including a large number of United Way community partners, among them launch emcee Katie Bowling of the Dragonfly Pond Society.
The keynote speaker was Ken Ballantyne, a two-time brain injury survivor who received a standing ovation for his emotional testimonial about the assistance of the Brain Injury Society and the United Way.
“It’s going to be a fantastic campaign,” said Haugli. “I know the economy is such that people’s wallets may not be as full as before, but any amount can help and ultimately it will go to a great cause.”