Bhavana Varma’s Remarkable Journey Leading Kingston’s United Way for 24 Years


In Kingston, Bhavana Varma is wrapping up an incredible 24-year journey as president and chief executive officer of the United Way for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington. She’s leaving behind a legacy of remarkable transformation and growth.

How It All Started

It all started upon her arrival in Kingston two decades ago, Bhavana took charge of a struggling United Way branch. It was a time when the agency was barely meeting its fundraising goals and had lost the community’s confidence.

Turning Things Around for United Way Within a Year

But things changed quickly. Bhavana, alongside a newly formed board of directors, revitalized the branch, turning it into one of the most successful United Way Branches in Canada.

Reflecting on her start, Bhavana shared, “It was the first time I was an executive director. I had been in senior management, but I had never been an executive director”.

The agency evolved over the years, focusing more on preventing social problems while continuing to support essential programs.

Part of their strategy involved raising awareness about local social issues, such as homelessness, addiction, and mental health challenges. 

Bhavana emphasized the importance of educating the public and enhancing the capabilities of non-profit organizations to tackle these issues effectively.

“Many were unaware of the struggles facing some in our community. It was crucial to highlight these issues to garner support,” Bhavana noted.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted many of these social challenges, but it also accelerated the United Way’s initiatives.

Projects like the food distribution warehouse, a mobile clinic, and the Integrated Care Hub, which supports individuals with complex mental health and addiction issues, are among her proudest achievements.

Turning Things Around for United Way Within a Year

As Bhavana looks ahead, she plans to devote more time to her role as an honorary colonel with the 77 Line Regiment and to mentor leaders of charities and non-profits. 

Plus, she’s excited about finally taking a vacation with her husband during the fall—a first in over three decades of dedicated service.

Through her leadership, Bhavana has not only transformed the United Way of Kingston but also made a lasting impact on the community she served.

This article is inspired by and includes information from an article by The Kingston Whig Standard, originally reported by Elliot Ferguson.