Waterloo couple inspires gifts to the Co-op for Community program

Mary-Ellen Cullen and Steve Menich want to help build stronger communities in Waterloo Region. They found an outlet for their passion to give back by funding co-op students jobs at non-profit organizations through their contributions to the University of Waterloo’s Co-op for Community program through the Co-operative and Experiential Education fund.

Mary-Ellen Cullen and Steve Menich and their dog

The couple's donation of $5,000 will be unlocked when 100 donors donate to the Co-operative and Experiential Education fund. For Menich and his wife, this donation is an investment that benefits not only students but countless community members as the fund provides job opportunities for co-op students at local non-profit organizations.

“Typically, non-profits don’t have a budget to support other services and that is one niche co-op students can fill,” says Menich. “From the feedback we’ve received, students have been contributing in a very admirable way, which contributes to their education and the non-profit agency.”

Donors completely fund the Co-op for Community program which creates meaningful co-op jobs for Waterloo students from all disciplines.

Donations to the program go directly to supporting Waterloo co-op students who spend their co-op work term at a local non-profit affiliated with the United Way.

Menich and Cullen’s donation is part of Waterloo’s Co-operative and Experiential Education’s (CEE) Giving Tuesday initiative which takes place on November 28. Giving Tuesday, founded in Canada, is now a global movement that encourages acts of generosity — monetary or otherwise.

Co-op for Community is such a great idea. It’s an investment in the education of students where we all benefit. It’s not just an investment in the student, it’s an investment in the community.

Mary-Ellen Cullen (BA ’78)

Giving back to Waterloo

Cullen and Menich both have a giving nature and always look for interesting ways to provide support in the Region.

“It’s where we were both born and raised,” says Cullen, a retired crown attorney and former board member and board chair at St. Jerome’s University. “Our educational lives and professional lives took us outside of Kitchener-Waterloo but eventually we both came back home. Having lived elsewhere, you get to see how special this community is. I have always said this community is rich in terms of volunteerism and the resources that are available to people.” For Menich, a retired psychologist, philanthropy is something that runs in his family.

“I grew up in a house that was quite involved with the community. My parents were also interested in philanthropy and supporting non-profit agencies as well as educational opportunities,” says Menich.

The Menichs believe the program aligns with their values which are deeply rooted in supporting educational opportunities. “I find it gratifying to know that there are young people going out into the community and learning about volunteerism,” says Cullen. “It’s an investment in the education of students from which we all benefit — not just the student, but also the community.”

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A dedication to public service

Both Menich and Cullen draw inspiration for their charitable work from their experience in public service. The couple, now retired, look for programs like Co-op for Community that exemplify helping others.

After completing law school, Cullen worked at the Kitchener Crown Attorney’s office. The experience helped set the trajectory for her career. “I saw the public service and I knew that is where I wanted to engage,” says Cullen. “As an attorney, I got to meet with people at all different points in their lives, when they were at their high and lows. It was a gift to help them get through that.”

As a psychologist, Menich also learned the importance of community service throughout his career. Their similar experiences and values helped to draw the couple together.

Both Menich and Cullen hope to inspire others with their donation so that more students can give back early in their careers.

Interested in donating?

Support the Co-op for Community program by donating to the Co-operative and Experiential Education fund on Giving Tuesday, November 28, 2023 to make the most of your contribution.