Veronika Kanya was 23 and in her third year of university when she started to lose her vision because of childhood diabetes.
By the time she was 35, she was blind. By then, however, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind had been helping her with life skills and support for several years.
On Friday, Kanya (with her guide dog, Apache, nearby) told a crowd of several hundred people attending the launch of the United Way Winnipeg's annual campaign the CNIB is one of more than 100 agencies financially supported by the United Way — and she wanted to say thank you.
"I was devastated when I lost my vision," she said. "But then I bought a piano, I started martial arts, and I went to the CNIB and used every one of their services.
"I still use their services today. So when you give to United Way Winnipeg, you give people like me options... I am so thankful to donors for giving me my independence," she said. "When you empower yourself, you empower others."
Jeff Goy, president and chief executive officer of Wawanesa Insurance, and this year's United Way campaign chairman, announced the local organization's highest-ever fundraising goal: $21.6 million.
Goy said he is confident the target will be reached. Last year, the goal was $21 million and the organization exceeded it by $300,000.
"We’ve already raised 20 per cent of our goal," Goy said Friday at the official campaign launch: the 16th annual Plane Pull. "Look at all the people who came out in the rain — people want to help."
Winnipeggers are helped about 340,000 times each year by the more than 100 agencies funded by the United Way.
Goy, noting 80 teams of 20 participants each were preparing to compete pulling either a Boeing 727 or a C-130 Hercules plane forward a few metres, said it mirrors what the United Way does.
"It represents what people are capable of doing when we work together," he said. "And, when it comes to community, we can do so much more together than we could ever do alone.
"Every ninety seconds, someone receives the services of a United Way agency... I believe in the immense generosity of Winnipeg and their commitment to community."
Selena Hinds, a Wawanesa vice-president, said the insurance company will continue to match new leadership gifts up to $1,200 given by donors to the United Way.
"That means if you jump to $1,200, you can double your impact," Hinds said. "That’s double the mentorship and mental health support for young people. More families escaping poverty and stronger communities across our city."
Hinds said, this year, Wawanesa has created the Super Challenge for people who accepted the leadership challenge last year and plan to do it again.
Hinds said while Wawanesa won't match a second-year $1,200 donation, it will match a $300 increase to that gift with a matching $300, and give a matching $800 if the contribution is $800 more.
"Let's do it because we love Winnipeg," she said.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Saturday, September 14, 2019 at 10:21 AM CDT: Minor corrections: someone is helped by United Way every nine seconds; people access United Way's services about 340,000 times per year in Winnipeg.