As a kid, Jamie Keast looked at helping others like it was something that you were supposed to do, something that was required. But she didn’t know that the death of the person closest to her would create a young woman who is set to devote her life to giving help to people that need it most.
Growing up in North Vancouver, Keast caught the volunteering bug from her mother.
“My mom never worked, she was always at home with us. Instead of working she would go out and volunteer for a lot of different things,” said Keast, now 23.
“So we grew up thinking that, that was what you do, that volunteering is necessary in someone’s life and that’s how you give back. We never really thought of not doing it.”
When she was eight years old, Keast had her mind set on becoming a doctor, figuring that it was the only way to really help people. So in high school, Keast volunteered 100 hours in science-related fields for a career-prep program, and it seemed that she had her sights set in the right direction. It seemed like there was nothing that could slow her down.
Then, on the night of her high school graduation, tragedy happened.
Keast’s twin brother Quinn was struck and killed by a transit bus that night in downtown Vancouver, as he and a group of fellow grads were headed to an after-party.
Quinn was the captain of Handsworth Secondary’s basketball team, beloved by many, and Jamie’s closest friend. Despite being twins, Jamie notes how she and her brother varied greatly when it came to choosing a passion.
“Quinn and I were very different people. I was never really focused on one particular thing like he was. I wasn’t playing basketball to play after high school, I was playing because I loved to play, but I was there because I was going to school. Quinn became obsessed with it and that became something that he had the ability to focus on, but he did it in his own, sort of quiet way. He wasn’t flashy or arrogant about it,” said Keast.
It wasn’t until her and her parents established the Quinn Keast Foundation two months after his passing that Jamie found solace in helping others.
“It really doesn’t get any worse, you kind of search and you get desperate for things to focus on,” said Keast. “The feeling that I got from doing the work that I was doing was completely opposite to the way I was feeling at the time. I would cling on to anything that would make me feel the slightest bit better.”
But using volunteer work as an outlet for her emotions wasn’t exactly the way that Keast had intended to help others. Later that same year, the Quinn Keast Foundation partnered with Hoops 4 Hope, an organization designed to help impoverished African children through the sport of basketball. Together, the two groups created a charity game where those attending were asked to bring old shoes to be delivered to children in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
“When we started the foundation, originally we were just giving out scholarships,” said Keast. “I don’t even remember much of my first year of university because of the whole situation, but I think it was when I started volunteering with Hoops 4 Hope, that it kind of opened up doors for me that I went into.”
On the other side of one of those doors was a trip to South Africa, an eye-opening experience that taught Keast as much about African culture as it did about herself.
Before her Hoops 4 Hope gig was set to begin in South Africa, Keast and travel companion Matt Sacks visited Ghana to work with a different volunteer organization.
“That was the first time I had ever been to a developing country besides Costa Rica in my spring break, and it was more getting used to putting aside the expectations of our lifestyle—how things don’t get done like they do here. Just not trying to bring our values, and try to learn more from them,” she said.
But it wasn’t as easy to start volunteering as Keast had anticipated. Her program hadn’t been set up upon her arrival, and it took over three quarters of Keast’s stay to finally work out the problems. During the frustrating process, Jamie decided to take things into her own hands. She pooled her own resources together and ended up teaching HIV/AIDS awareness at local schools.
Between the course material that Keast was teaching and the lifestyle that she was witnessing everyday, it was tough to stay engaged with the task at hand.
“There was a part of me that just wanted to spend all of my time and all of my day playing around with kids in the village,” said Keast.
After Ghana, Keast and Sacks made their way to South Africa where they hooked up with Hoops 4 Hope, and unloaded the thousands of pairs of athletic shoes that had been collected back in Canada.
Then came more adversity, and Keast managed to keep finding any way to accomplish what she had travelled halfway around the globe to do.
“When I was in South Africa, I was mugged at knifepoint, and I thought ‘this is ridiculous, I can’t do this anymore’,” she said.
“But the days we spent on the road and in the townships, it just wasn’t worth leaving over something as petty as getting mugged.”
Behind Keast’s extraordinary drive and determination in Africa was her innate ability to overcome any difficulties she faced.
And it all traced back to the loss of Quinn.
Sherri Magee, a close friend of the Keast family, specializes in helping people who have been affected by cancer either themselves or through the loss of a loved one. A few years ago, after Quinn’s passing, Jamie reached out to Sherri for guidance.
“I’ve watched people either move on, or they stay stuck,” said Magee.
“Some people will become very depressed, and stay where they are, and they’ll really live in the fear and the anger and the sadness. They don’t move forward, they kind of stay in a rut.
“I have seen people really give up and spiral downward and give up everything,” Magee adds. “And then I’ve seen those that have just thrived, and most often it’s giving back to other people. There’s a real deep sense of empathy and compassion that may not have been there before. Until you’re really in that position yourself, you can’t really understand what people are going through, but when you’re really there, you get it—like never before. So a lot of people end up giving back.
“As a leader and a visionary, Jamie has thrived. She really understands what people are going through when they’re down.”
And it’s that very aspect of Keast’s character that may also be her weakness. She says that when someone asks her to volunteer for an organization, it’s hard to say no, and that she tends to over-commit herself because she doesn’t want to disappoint anyone.
Just like the blue wristbands that commemorate Quinn’s life, Jamie does indeed want to live with “No Regrets”.
Quinn has without a doubt become the driving force and inspiration that Jamie calls upon when diving into the various challenges of her volunteer career.
“There’s a lot of things that I didn’t know, not about Quinn, but that Quinn did until after he passed away. I didn’t even know he shot 100,000 shots, and I don’t even know when he did it. I might at the time but I don’t remember much about it. Everything he had written in his journal, I didn’t even know he had, like his countdown to his [provincial basketball] championship. There was so much that I didn’t know about him, and I think a lot of it I didn’t appreciate until after when I had read all of these things.
“I think if we all could just slow down in our lives then we could realize those things about people. Obviously I try and model myself after who my brother was, and on a day-to-day basis it’s hard, because we are so different.”
While Keast’s contribution to those who are less fortunate is going to be immeasurable over her lifetime, it’s clear that the impact Quinn had on her during his short life will stay with her forever.