Kathy Baldan’s experiences as a young community volunteer helped fuel her lifelong passion for teaching and learning.
Born to a large Croatian-Canadian family, Baldan grew up in the Donovan.
Her first experience volunteering was in Grade 6. “The girls who belonged to the Legion of Mary at Holy Trinity Catholic Church were committed to helping others. I remember how much I enjoyed teaching English to an immigrant family in our neighbourhood. I don’t know how much they learned from an 11-year-old, but they seemed to really appreciate my efforts.”
Volunteering as a student helped pave the way for Baldan’s future in teaching and she was motivated to pursue that goal by her own teachers. “They were definitely an inspiration to my career aspirations.”
Baldan left Sudbury to attend Ryerson University and Western University. While residing in southern Ontario, she volunteered after class at a local community centre for underprivileged kids. Upon graduation, her first teaching job was at Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School in Hamilton.
In 1980, she returned home to Greater Sudbury. Baldan has taught a variety of subjects at three area high schools: Marymount Academy, St. Charles College and St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School. She also continued taking courses at Cambrian College, Laurentian University and the University of Toronto.
Baldan and her husband, Paul, are proud parents of two daughters.
“Our youngest will soon graduate from the Motive Power Technician-Service and Management-Automotive program at Cambrian College,” she said. “Her older sister and her husband, both Laurentian University Commerce graduates, live in Lively, and they have two adorable little boys, ages four years and five months.”
Like many people during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Baldans are watching their grandsons grow up from afar and with the help of technology.
As a working mother raising a family, Baldan wasn’t heavily involved in community volunteering but, as a teacher, she regularly participated in student extracurricular events.
“Teachers contribute a lot of personal time to support extracurricular activities,” she said. “They give so much of their time outside of the classroom, so it’s natural for that kind of commitment to remain strong, even into retirement.”
During her career, Baldan was always a strong proponent of cooperative education and volunteerism.
“Mandatory community involvement hours is a wonderful thing as it introduces students to social responsibility,” she said. “The program exposes youth to people of all ages and work situations, and those connections help build self-confidence and contacts. Like me, they may even discover their passion for a specific career.”
In 2011, after dedicating 32 years to teaching, Baldan retired from the Sudbury Catholic District School Board.
Soon afterwards, she was approached by a former student who invited her to help with the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) Relay For Life. Baldan was already quite familiar with the annual event because her husband’s employer, Scotiabank, was a major sponsor.
“Paul was involved with Relay since its inception and I always brought our daughters to the event to offer support and attend the Survivor Lap and Luminary Ceremony. Our daughters also helped out with Relay for a few years,” she said. “ In retirement, I’ve been able to participate as a volunteer myself.”
For the last several years, Baldan has been involved with the luminaries, assisting with the sale of luminaries and handling on-site luminary logistics.
“I really enjoy meeting and talking with so many people. Listening to their stories can be both heart-wrenching and blessed,” she said. “ As for the luminaries, many people choose to decorate their own luminary bags. Personalizing them with heartfelt messages really means a lot.”
Relay For Life celebrates cancer survivors, gives hope and support to those battling the disease, and honours the loss of loved ones.
“The most heartwarming experience is seeing the track light up with thousands of luminaries and then taking part in the Luminary Ceremony. It’s all very emotional for everyone there.”
Volunteering with the CCS has been exceptionally rewarding for the Baldan family over the years. “You not only work with amazing people to plan Relay, reach out to participants, or handle event logistics, but you really do learn a lot about cancer and the Canadian Cancer Society. The organization is there to help people through research, Wheels of Hope and numerous support programs.”
For many years, Baldan has also been an active member of the Croatian Kolo & Tamburitza group, volunteering in a variety of cultural activities. She has also volunteered at local fundraising and awareness walks for other organizations, such as Parkinson Canada Sudbury Chapter and the MS Society.
“People worry that they don’t have the extra time, but it can be as little or as much as you have to give,” she said. “For some community initiatives, I’ve worked only on event day, whether at the registration desk, selling draw tickets or cleaning up. Every little bit helps.
“They say that without volunteers fundraising to support good causes wouldn’t exist and some events just wouldn’t happen. Many events are run primarily by volunteers, so people need to understand how important and valuable their time is for others. There’s no reason to be worried if you haven’t got much time to offer because even a few hours will still be appreciated and make a positive difference.”
Kathy Baldan’s Words of Wisdom
If you’re a young person, volunteering will help to develop your self-confidence and you’ll learn skills that will stay with you for life. It opens your eyes to opportunities, gives way to networking, and is a good way to discover your potential career path.
If you have even just a little bit of time, share it. Volunteer. By doing good, you feel good.
Marlene Holkko Moore is a local communications professional and occasional contributor to Sudbury.com.