Labour friends and allies are often first to answer when community calls.
On Thursday evening, United Way Elgin Middlesex honoured some of this region’s best of the best of advocacy and action during the Labour Appreciation Awards Night, celebrating the people who inspired hope and mobilized change this past year.
They include folks like Steve Holmes, a long-time member of ATU Local 741, who spends most of his retirement days preparing breakfasts for neighbours in need, organizing city-wide seniors’ sports leagues and advocating for worker rights.
Holmes was surprised to be honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his volunteer work and advocacyand, after being celebrated for his more than four decades of service, he deflected the accolades to his fellow community advocates and activists. Reflecting on the years of service and labour action, he said, “When I look back I think, ‘We did all that?!’ ”
Labour and United Way share the same commitment to community, he added. “They see what needs to be done and then find a way to get it done.”
“In a pandemic year that has tested our capacity to connect meaningfully with our neighbours, these hard-working folks have gone above and beyond to help build a place where everyone belongs. They have stepped up, stepped out and did good – at a time when it might have been easier to sit back, sit out and let others take the lead.”
Check out the full list and a short description of winners.
Their work ranged from organizing toy drives for low-income families at Christmas, to restoring a city landmark. Some advocated for gender parity in the workplace while others cultivated social justice among high-schoolers, and one award-winner even tutored students from the porch steps during COVID shutdowns.
“In a pandemic year that has tested our capacity to connect meaningfully with our neighbours, these hard-working folks have gone above and beyond to help build a place where everyone belongs,” said Kelly Ziegner, president and CEO of United Way Elgin Middlesex.
“They have stepped up, stepped out and did good – at a time when it might have been easier to sit back, sit out and let others take the lead.”
In total, the event recognized nine individuals, along with three union locals, and a partnership led by OPSEU Local 159 at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital.
“They’re people who volunteer with no fanfare and no expectation of any reward, beyond the satisfaction of knowing their efforts make a positive difference,” said Sue Fairweather, chair of Labour United. “They, and everyone who makes our community a better place, are boots-on-the-ground local heroes.”
Guests heard from keynote speaker Lindsay Rice, executive director of YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin, about how the agency wraps supports around women experiencing homelessness or abuse.
“A healthy community is one that that nurtures the whole person, free from violence, racism and other abuses of power. It’s difficult work – and infinitely rewarding – to help a woman journey from an unsafe home or no home at all, to a place of safety and belonging,” Rice said.
The Labour community’s commitment to supporting a safe environment for women is evident in its ongoing support of the New Beginnings Loan Fund
This micro-loan program, funded by United Way Elgin Middlesex, saves lives by providing women the means to escape violence in their homes and make a new, safe start. Loans of up to $500 cover women’s costs of moving or storage, home repairs, rent, home security, transportation, legal expenses or basic needs for their children. Loan repayments are returned to the fund to benefit other women who may need help in the future.
A Labour United 50/50 draw Thursday night in support of New Beginnings generated $500 for the fund and $500 for the holder of the ticket #99000007004.
Guests also heard from local singer-songwriter Aaron Allen, whose talent for country-rock storytelling earned him CMA Ontario male artist of the year in 2021.