Growing up in an impoverished, unstable household in Saskatchewan, Michelle Okere knew she wanted more for her life. She went to university, the first in her family to do so, while working full time and taking care of her siblings. She discovered a drive that came from necessity and a desire to break the cycle of poverty. “If I couldn’t afford my rent or my textbooks, no one was going to save me.”
Okere has come a long way from her childhood. She is the CEO of Compassion House, an organization that supports women that need accommodations and support while receiving their cancer care. She’s helped launch initiatives for women in remote locations who have been diagnosed with cancer to find peer support and access treatment.
“I recognized right away that when you looked at the territory we covered, we weren’t seeing the number of Indigenous women we should’ve been seeing. Early detection is important and they need somewhere to stay in the city.”
Her work is the logical conclusion of her personal life. She found her calling working in the not-for-profit sector and with the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation.
“I hate when organizations go into communities and push their way of doing things. It’s not sustainable. I’m there to support, not to do. I’m there to ensure they have the tools to do the work they need to do.”
Her outlook on community has carried her to Compassion House, her consulting work and the charitable fund she founded with her husband, Enyinnah.
“I didn’t grow up with a lot of positive role models. It’s why community is important to me. It was the community that gave me opportunities.”