With five healthy children of his own, Ed O’Keefe had no trouble choosing where to volunteer his time.
O’Keefe volunteers with the Children’s Wish Foundation’s Newfoundland and Labrador chapter, raising money to grant the wishes of seriously ill children.
“I have such a big family and they’re all healthy. I’m lucky, and want to give back,” says O’Keefe, who is president of CUPE 1860.
His work with the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation is all about helping people, too.
CUPE 1860 represents workers delivering and maintaining social housing across the province. With a severe shortage of affordable housing, O’Keefe and his members are delivering a service people desperately need.
“The housing situation in Newfoundland and Labrador is really, really hard right now. Rental rates have gone through the roof and the vacancy rate is down around 0.2 or 0.3 per cent. We provide a really important service”
O’Keefe is a community support liaison officer who helps people with mental health issues and other vulnerable people find affordable housing. It’s meaningful work that delivers a basic right in the community.
“The most important thing for a person is having a roof over their head. Everything else comes second to that,” says O’Keefe.
In his spare time, O’Keefe helps fundraise to grant sick kids’ wishes. Making a child’s wish come true – whether it’s a computer system, a trip to Disney World, or meeting a favourite hockey player – is “an amazing thing,” says O’Keefe.
Delegates to CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador’s recent division convention raised more than $10,000 for the foundation – enough money to grant at least one child’s wish, likely more.
“I was floored, I was literally floored,” says O’Keefe of the outpouring, which was matched by CUPE National for a total donation of$10,141.
O’Keefe says this kind of activism helps bust myths about unions being greedy and self-interested.
“Unions are so much more than that and this just proves it. It nails it home. Where else can you get a bunch of locals together and come up with $10,000 in the run of a couple of hours? If we weren’t community-based or mindful of the world around us, it would never happen.”
O’Keefe is looking forward to granting the wish of a sick child in Conception Bay South. The foundation is helping build a hockey rink and basketball court in the child’s back yard, as well as supplying equipment for two hockey and basketball teams.
“The boy’s going to call it the Wish Centre. It’s really great,” says O’Keefe.
For O’Keefe, the connection between CUPE and the community is a seamless one.
“To be involved with the union, it’s not just work-related. It’s helping everyone – workers, and the community, and getting involved in so many ways. I think we as a union have to start tooting our own horn.
“This is a part of who we are. We shouldn’t keep it under our hats. We have to sing it off the mountaintops,” says O’Keefe.
On June 23, CUPE is relaunching Communities Day. It’s an annual celebration of public services and the people who deliver them.
This year has a special focus on CUPE members as community builders. We’ll be profiling the vital role members play — on the job and in their spare time—building strong communities. Get involved in Communities Day by visiting cupe.ca/communities.
We’re offering a CUPE sweatshirt to the first ten members who are profiled!