Volunteers of the Day: Judy & Howard Bilenki


This week is Canada’s National Volunteer week – the perfect time to say thank you to the volunteers whose dedication and generosity make our work possible. Every day this week, we’ll be sharing the story of one of the more than 5,000 United Way volunteers we are so grateful for. We couldn’t do it without you. 

Volunteers Judy and Howard Bilenki help people understand the realities of living in poverty as volunteers with the Living on the Edge Poverty Simulation.

Judy and Howard Bilenki

How did you start volunteering with United Way?

Judy: Our son in in a band called Take me to the Pilot. Ace Burpee was producing a promo video for United Way, and used a song our son wrote. A friend sent us the link, and at that time we were looking for a new area to volunteer in – after the video we thought, well, why don’t we start there.

Howard: There are other opportunities we do on our own, but we were also looking for something we could do together as a team and work together on.

What do you do as a volunteer?

Judy: At the Poverty Simulation, participants are given packages. They’re given a certain amount of money, information about their social situation, health issues, etc, and they then have to simulate surviving as a family for 4 weeks below the poverty line.

Howard: We play the roles of the agencies to people that people in the simulation have to deal with. I’ve been a pawn shop operator, a place of employment…

Judy: I’ve played the role of the lady running a homeless shelter, and a teacher.

Howard: We try to make it as authentic and be as knowledgeable as possible. It’s role playing, but the poverty situations are true to form. And every group has been different, but they all take it quite seriously. We’ve had groups like the CEOs of hospitals, first year teachers, Manitoba Housing. It’s very interesting to hear their discussions at the end.

Judy: I taught for over 25 years, but when I played the teacher it was very interesting. When I looked back to my teaching years, when you saw a kid with their head down, I as a teacher would think “Maybe I need to rev up the lesson or do something more motivating,” – but then you would find our later that the child was hungry, or there were issues at home. Even though I’ve had many many experiences in the classroom, by doing this simulation I’m still learning and realizing things.

What motivates you to volunteer?

Judy: We’ve been retired – 5 years for Howard, 4 for me – and we’ve done a fair bit of contract work, and we’ve done volunteer work in our community and our church. We sat down at the beginning of this year, and I think Howard put it as “Time to give back.” So we cut back on contract work and decided we want to help more in some way.

Howard: I think it’s a sense of gratitude. We’re blessed in terms of what we have. I thought that this was a very good organization to hang your hat on, because I see it as helping support the people who are working on the front lines in the trenches. It does a lot of good in this city.

Want to learn more about volunteer with United Way? Click here for more information

Whether they’re working with our agency partners, reaching out to donors, running special events, helping to build understanding about important issues in our community, or ensuring United Way itself is an effective and efficient organization …  at the end of the day, they make it possible for people all over this city to build better lives for themselves and their families.

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