Social (wood)Worker

Helping though the love of woodworking

Ever since Kelsi O’Keefe ’06 (social work) was young she knew she wanted to be in field that allowed her to help others. After graduating from MSUM, she felt she had found the perfect profession in social work. After making a move to Minneapolis, she worked with patients with developmental disabilities. Although O’Keefe loved her job and saw the good she was doing with her patients, she felt she needed something that produced more tangible results.

“I love the field,” explained O’Keefe. “But I think there are some people who, at the end of the day, like to be able to stop, look back and see what they accomplished that day.I wanted to be able to hold my work.”

With this in mind, O’Keefe enrolled at a school for cabinet making. Here she honed her skills in woodworking and craftsmanship. She studied at the school for a year and wound up winning almost one-third of the awards at the annual cabinet-making showcase, including the award for Best in Show.

“I really liked making things with my hands and seeing what I made, but I kept asking where are all the people? I was coming up with all these crazy schemes in my mind of how I was going to be a social-woodworker.”

That was when O’Keefe discovered the orthotics and prosthetics field. She decided to pursue this vocation further by enrolling at Century College in White Bear Lake, Minn. After completing her studies, she moved to New Jersey to complete her residency at the Johnson Rehabilitation Institute. While in her residency, O’Keefe quickly realized her background in social work came as an advantage.

“With prosthetics and orthotics, a majority of the time you need to have good people skills because a lot of times people are coming to you in a fragile state,” said O’Keefe. “They’ve gone through a loss and they’re not sure how to grieve that; they’re not sure what comes next and sometimes they’re ashamed because their loss will be related to diabetes or from incidents where they feel it’s their fault.”

Now as a certified prosthetist, O’Keefe is able to combine her passion for helping people with her love for working with her hands every day.

“What drives me is that my field is very useful. I can physically see what needs to be done and what I have accomplished. It feels like I’ve stepped into a job that taps into all my skills.”


This story was first published in Moorhead Magazine, Fall 2016.

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