Young members at Omaha, Neb., Local 22 saw an opportunity to help grieving families last summer and seized on it, starting an annual tradition they hope will continue to help others in their region.

Members of Omaha Neb., Local 22's RENEW/NexGen chapter raised more than $12,000 for the families of the deceased IBEW brothers and sisters.

In 2015, leaders of the RENEW/NextGen chapter at Local 22 approached Business Manager Barry Mayfield after the sudden death of David Perez, a beloved member of the local’s leadership who suffered a fatal heart attack.

“When David died, it hit us all really hard,” said fourth-year apprentice Adam Oleson. “He was the first journeyman I worked with and our local’s sergeant-at-arms, so we pushed to do something to honor him and help out his family.”

That effort became Local 22’s Fallen Brothers Benefit, an annual gathering with food, games and silent and live auctions -- all geared toward helping the families of active members who passed away the previous year.

Wes Lucas, a fourth-year apprentice, said the event gives members an opportunity to get together, but also to remember. “It’s a really great time, but knowing that it’s going to make a difference in the lives of those families is what it’s all about.”

The 2015 event raised more than $14,000, which was split evenly after expenses among the families of the active members who died.

“It meant so much to those people,” said Mayfield, who noted that many of the families never knew what the IBEW was all about. “These were our brothers and sisters, and I’m proud of all of our young members for taking the time to do this for their families.”

In July, the core group of 10 young members who run the RENEW chapter put on the second annual Fallen Brothers Benefit, and it was just as successful as the first.

“We were able to get donations from some of our vendors and contractors,” Oleson said, and Local 464 of the Steamfitters and Plumbers donated the use of a massive grill on a trailer for the event. Oleson cooked hamburgers, hot dogs and pulled pork, and hundreds of members turned out.

The group also raffled off a new smoker and a family getaway to a nearby waterpark, helping to raise roughly $1,500 to $2,000 per family.

“For us to be able to do this for the families of the brothers we lost is our way of letting them know their loved ones will be remembered,” Oleson said. “I hope it means a lot to them. We’re a strong brotherhood, and they’ve got people who care about them here.”

Lucas and the rest of the team hope to eventually expand the benefit so that funds are available in the immediate aftermath of an active member’s death rather than having to wait until the annual fundraiser. “It’s something we’d like to do in the future,” he said. “We’re really just getting started.”