by Dakota Halfpenny on March 13, 2018 Comments Off on Steve

Labour Legend: Meet Steve

“I believe in the single person making a difference,” says Steve Abdey, President,  St Thomas & District Labour council and supporter of Go with the Flow, United Way’s feminine hygiene product drive. “Don’t take on what’s happening in the world,” he says, “take on what’s happening in your neighbourhood.”

Go with the Flow is asking people to donate feminine hygiene products throughout March. Often absent on the shelves of food banks and other social service agencies, these products are an urgent need for women experiencing homelessness and poverty. The issue of access is something Steve is working to bring into the public eye.

“I’m happy to support Go with the Flow,” says Steve. “I’m married and have four children, three of them daughters. Affordable feminine hygiene products are a big issue. Frankly it’s a human rights issue.”

Go with the Flow was inspired by Tampon Tuesday which began in London in 2009 when local CTV media personality Mandi Fields noticed there were no feminine hygiene products at her local food bank. The next month, over 20 women came together for the first ever event, bringing a box of tampons as the price of admission. This year in partnership with United Way and the Canadian Labour congress   Tampon Tuesday went across the country to 29 cities with over 53,671 items donated so far in support of women.

United Way will host the first Tampon Tuesday in St. Thomas on March 20.

Local passion, local power

Born in St. Thomas and a graduate of Central Elgin Collegiate Institute, Steve believes in the power of his community to end local poverty and homelessness. As a member of Labour United and employed at Community Living Elgin, he’s been helping people his entire career.

“If we let people fall through the cracks, it’s going to come back to us,” says Steve. “It’s easy to sit at home and look the other way – until someone rummages through your car or breaks into your garage at night.”

“No one grows up wanting to live in poverty but they fall through the cracks. United way is part of fixing those cracks.”

In Elgin County, United Way funds over 30 local programs. Experienced volunteers review applications and money raised from the community is invested in local programs through a detailed allocations process.

As a returning Board Member of United Way, Steve knows firsthand the impact United Way has on his community.

“United Way seeks to build the fabric of support running through the community, one person at a time,” says Steve, noting that all dollars raised stay in the community. “It’s an incredibly important organisation.”

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by Dakota Halfpenny on November 16, 2017 Comments Off on Brian

Labour Legend: Meet Brian

“I don’t feel legendary at all,” says Brian Tansy, President, ATU Local 741 and Chair of Labour United. “I am the man my mother raised me to be. I feel like the most normal, average person.”

Learning to be humble started at a young age. As one of seven kids raised by a single mom, Brian quickly learned that everyone has something to give.

“My mom kept us all very grounded,” he says. “Don’t think too much of yourself, and don’t sit around doing nothing, give back. My mother drilled that into all us kids.”

It’s a lesson he carries with him today.

As Chair of Labour United, a group of volunteers from unionized workplaces working in partnership with United Way Elgin Middlesex, Brian’s goal is to provide opportunities for employees from across Labour to give back.

“United Way has the power to connect us as a caring community,” he says. “If everybody did something little, the big things would take care of themselves.”

Brian’s first big project as Chair is Labour Gives Back. This year, the committee is renovating two washroom complexes at Stevenson Children’s Camp, an overnight camp attended by almost 300 kids every summer, most from families who can’t pay.

For Brian, the project is personal. He remembers his own childhood experience at a mission camp in Indiana, living in a cabin in the woods, eating three meals a day and waterskiing for the first time. The experience was transformative.

“Camp is a life-changing experience for young kids who don’t have a chance but are given one,” he says. “We’re building citizens, if you think about it.”

Labour United tackles a different initiative for a United Way funded agency every year. The Stevenson Camp project is in the planning stages and the committee is seeking donations of materials, money, skilled labour and time. The renovation happens this spring, just in time for summer camp.

“It comes down to this: When I die what am I remembered for? A nice house, a nice car, vacations? Or because I influenced people’s lives?” Brian says philosophically.

“Influencing people’s lives is a better thing because that reaches forever. My house is falling apart as we speak.”

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by Dakota Halfpenny on June 14, 2017 Comments Off on Jim
United Way LiUNA cheque presentation

Jim, pictured left, at a United Way cheque presentation

Labour Legend: Meet Jim

For Jim MacKinnon, the reasons to support United Way are simple – as simple as 1 + 1 you could say. “It’s two-fold,” he explains, “First, United Way pinpoints where the need is greatest in the community and allocates funds where they’ll help most. Then United Way’s team does all the follow up too, to ensure the outcomes expected are met by the funded organizations.”

As the elected business manager for LiUNA Local 1059, Jim has played a significant role in building an incredibly successful annual golf tournament, an event that’s raised over $1 million for United Way since its first year. But he makes sure to praise the industry partners who support the fundraiser as champions of the tournament, adding that without their donations reaching the million-dollar mark wouldn’t have been possible. “Our partners recognize how important United Way is to us at LiUNA, and they in turn show up big time.”

It’s been more than 20 years since Jim’s initial involvement with United Way as a volunteer building new washroom and shower facilities at a camp for underprivileged kids. That experience shaped his long-time commitment to United Way, and continues to motivate his contributions today. Looking back, Jim says his ongoing support of the organization just makes sense. “I’ve never held the belief that United Way – or any one group – can fix everything, but I do know that United Way makes a big difference locally. Thousands of people have found help through the organization and that makes it well worth my investment.”

“Thousands of people have found help through United Way and that makes it well worth my investment.”

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by Dakota Halfpenny on May 1, 2017 Comments Off on Evelyn

Evelyn, in red, and fellow Labour United volunteers

Labour Legend: Meet Evelyn

Over the past 20 years, Evelyn Karmiris Daley says one of the most rewarding things she’s seen throughout her involvement with United Way is the organization’s unique ability to be a part of someone’s life – even if they may not know it quite yet. “Ask 10 people and I bet that if they haven’t themselves accessed a United Way service, a loved one or family member has.”

First volunteering with the Oxford-area United Way, Evelyn – who’s also an OSSTF District 11 member – recognizes that no matter what region she lives and works in, the need for social support is always there. This awareness underpins her dedication and in 2016, Evelyn served as the Labour Chair and vice-chair for the annual United Way London & Middlesex community campaign. And though she’d been socially active for decades, being that involved with the organization was still eye-opening.

Looking back on her past year of executive volunteerism, Evelyn recalls a particular United Way cheque presentation that really touched her heart:

“Years ago,” Evelyn explains, “I was doing a campaign presentation and asked a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentee to share her story with our group. She had a tough home life, and clearly felt so alone in the world – you could feel the compassion and care for her in the room, and the understanding of just how important United Way is since they fund BBBS. Jump ahead to 2016, I’ve joined CAMI’s campaign fundraising announcement where one of their staff was speaking about how United Way has impacted her life. Wouldn’t you know it, it was the mentor of the young girl who once shared her story all that time back! That CAMI employee talked about how the teen she had been a Big Sister for is now healthy, doing well and a mom of two. It was just incredible to hear about that kind of success, and know it’s in part due to the social supports available that this woman was able to thrive.”

“What I’ve learned is that no matter the community, there is a need for United Way.”

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by Dakota Halfpenny on February 28, 2017 Comments Off on Justin
Labour Legend Justin and his fellow union colleagues

Justin, second left, pictured with his union colleagues at a United Way event

Labour Legend: Meet Justin

Justin says his employer and local – GM-CAMI Assembly Ingersoll & Unifor Local 88 – made all the difference in the world when he faced a drug addiction and decided to get sober three years ago.

“Honestly, if it wasn’t for my union, I wouldn’t be alive today.”

Justin, who does production support and serves as the part-time Employee Assistance Program (EAP) rep for the auto assembly plant, once lost his job due to his addiction. It was through the EAP that Justin found his footing and began the road to recovery. He credits the assistance program with getting him into treatment and for advocating on his behalf for reemployment at the plant.

Today, aside from his busy job and completing an Addiction Care Worker diploma through McMaster University, Justin also volunteers with his local victim services organization and is the advocacy chair for GenNext. His first-hand experience with mental health agencies funded by United Way is one reason Justin wanted to deepen his commitment to giving back – something he calls his “social debt.” GM-CAMI has been a long-time workplace champion and supports United Way with an annual campaign; Justin would often participate in the yearly fundraising drive. “But now that I’ve gone through recovery,” he explains, “I really understand how important it is to make sure United Way is a part of our community.”

“I got help through services United Way funds and know the difference they make.”

“At my worst, I was on the street. Today, I can’t wait to see where life takes me.”

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by Dakota Halfpenny on February 1, 2017 Comments Off on Rick

Labour Legend: Meet Rick

To say the last three years have been life-changing for Rick Wituik and his family is an understatement. And while there have been major ups and downs for Rick, a 20-year staffer at 3M Canada and member of Unifor Local 27, he explains there has been light amidst the dark.

Rick and his wife, Cheryl, lost their son Colin in 2014. The middle of three boys, Colin, at 21 years of age, died by suicide; since that devastating time, Rick explains his family struggles daily with Colin’s loss, saying, “it’s exhausting.”

Looking back on those early days after Colin’s passing, Rick remembers wanting to disappear and escape from the world. Sadly, just months after losing their son, one of Colin’s closest friends also died by suicide. “We were totally heartbroken. There are no words to describe the impact these losses have had on our lives, and the lives of those around us.”

A solo bike ride from Kingston to Montreal in the fall of 2015 inspired a cross-country ride the next May in support of CMHA’s national fundraiser, Ride Don’t Hide. Rick also had the chance to visit with some of Colin’s closest friends while in Montreal. “It was just incredible,” he recalls. “These were people Colin and our family had known for years; they loved the idea of a cross-country solo ride, and from that point it became a goal.”

Coupling a major bicycle trip with Ride Don’t Hide was a natural fit for the Wituiks. Cheryl had organized their first team in support of the mental health fundraiser just one year after losing Colin, “so the pairing of the two things just kinda happened our next time out,” adds Rick. Their team, Colin’s Tour de Friends, ended up the country’s top 2016 Ride Don’t Hide fundraisers!


“My bike was the conversation starter!”

In May 2016, Rick began pedalling across Canada, starting in British Columbia and eventually making it back to Ontario more than 30 days and 2,200 kilometers later. Along the way, Rick shared his family’s story with close to 300 people. “I wanted to slow life down and engage people without fanfare or celebrity – it was an eye-opening trip,” he says. “I saw, from essentially one corner of our country to the next, the deep need communities have for mental health support and other social services. I could hear in the stories shared with me, the fear and uncertainty people felt in their lives.”


A new direction

It was a former co-worker and friend who reached out to Rick with the opportunity to help United Way as part of the annual 3Mgives campaign. But Rick was surprised at what came next: “I wasn’t really prepared for the impact my words could have.”

A long-time volunteer at a local rehabilitation centre, Rick stepped back from those duties to partner with United Way to speak about the importance of mental health. He hopes to do workplace talks to reduce the stigma around suicide and to inspire others to support the charity, helping his community on a larger scale. For Rick, this was the chance to start what he hopes to be a long relationship with United Way. “We need umbrella organizations like United Way if we’re ever to meet all the different needs within our communities. It’s as a group, together, that I believe we have the power to make huge change.”

“It’s as a group, together, that I believe we have the power to make huge change”

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