Helping Huron feel more like Home: Every Campus Needs a Cathy
“She’s an amazing face to see when you come in, always smiling, always ready when you need a hug. It’s really nice to have someone like that around. And she gives amazing advice!”
That’s Sabirah Fathima, an international student at Huron. She’s talking about Cathy Kramer, a Huron staff member who is often the first face guests see when they arrive on campus. Cathy works at Huron’s Welcome Centre in the new Frank Holmes Leadership Building five days a week from 8:30 to 4 p.m. But her impact goes far beyond that simple job description.
Cathy grew up in London, Ontario. Hers was the kind of family that never hesitated to welcome another face around the dinner table. “There was always enough food,” she says. “I grew up knowing that if you can help someone, you take them in and do what you can for them.”
After high school she had her first child and later trained as a bookkeeper, executive assistant, and health care administrator. Much of her career was spent in healthcare, working in obstetrics and gynecology, critical care, and psychiatry. She remembers one patient who liked to stand by her desk and chat while waiting for his appointment. One day, he told her that coming to the hospital was the best part of his week. “He said that some days he didn’t speak to another soul, so he was glad that he could always speak to me. From that point on, I have always taken time out of my day for anybody – you never know what a difference it could make.”
Cathy has dealt with her own health challenges with a daily focus on strengthening her own mental health and resiliency. For Cathy, it is very personal as she experienced the tragic loss of a teenage family member. She struggled with her grief for many months. Then a call came from a former hospital colleague, offering her a position on Huron’s welcome desk. “The energy of the kids here really helped me to move forward.”
She tells the story of Josh, a student who arrived from the Bahamas with his family to tour Huron. Cathy introduced herself and noticing that Josh’s grandmother was tired, suggested that the two women have tea while the others continued with the tour. Since then, Josh’s mother has brought or sent gifts of tea on several occasions, and often emails to say hello to Cathy.
In the spirit of community, that tea (and a variety of other popular teas) are used for a new Huron tradition– the Wednesday afternoon student tea social, hosted by Cathy. It started with two international students who were feeling homesick. Cathy suggested that they join her for a cup of tea and a chat. “My grandma used to say there isn’t a problem you couldn’t start to solve over a cup of tea!” The girls came back the next week for more tea and sympathy and brought some friends. At first it was a small group of students who pulled chairs up around the fireplace. But soon the idea took off. The first tea party of the current school year attracted more than 60 students.
It's clear that while tea is a welcome incentive, Cathy is the real attraction. “Some days I have a chance to sit down and chat,” she says. “Other times I’m on the phone or working on a project and some of the students will come and stand by the desk for a little visit.” Sebastian Nowakowski, a fourth-year student, explains her impact simply. “She’s very motherly. She’ll have a real conversation with you about whatever you’re interested in. She listens.” In fact, many students refer to her as “Huron’s Mom.”
Cathy’s warmth and kindness extends to her colleagues too. The Reverend Matt Martin, Huron’s chaplain, is relatively new on the job and says Cathy is always ready to help anyone who needs it. “She makes it a very wonderful place to work,” he says.
When you ask Cathy what she gets from going above and beyond to reach out to students and colleagues, she doesn’t hesitate. “It just fills my heart,” she says. “My bucket replenishes with every interaction I have.”
Huron University is on a mission to nurture Leaders with Heart. In addition to on campus supporters like Cathy, Huron has a professionally trained Wellness Services team focused on offering students timely individual and group support. For more information on Huron’s wellness services please visit: www.huronatwestern.ca/wellness-services