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Helpers: For 20 years, Debbie Rainville has supported people in their final days

But her volunteer efforts extend well beyond palliative care into community events and health care
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Debbie Rainville comes by her volunteer spirit honestly. Her parents taught their children the importance of giving back. ‘In the Williams household, we learned at an early age how important it is to value and contribute to community,” she tells Marlene Moore in this week’s Helpers story. (Image: Marlene Holkko Moore)

For Debbie Rainville, living in a close-knit community and being raised by parents who believed in neighbours helping neighbours paved the way for her indelible dedication to volunteering.

A lifelong resident of Sudbury, Rainville grew up in the Lorraine Street Playground area. She and her husband, Gaetan, a retired Vale millwright, are childhood sweethearts who met in their neighbourhood in the early 1970s. Their daughter, Lisa, is a teacher at École secondaire Macdonald-Cartier and son, Jeff, is a partner in Sunwire Inc. 

As a child, Rainville remembers how her dad always lent a helping hand, whether it was at church or at the playground and ice rink. Her mom tended to the ice shack kitchen, making sure everyone enjoyed some hot chocolate after a rigorous skate. 

“My parents never said no to anyone,” she said. “In the Williams household, we learned at an early age how important it is to value and contribute to community.”

Her parents’ lessons in kindness were solidly ingrained in the family so for Rainville volunteering was a normal part of growing up. As a young woman, she established and ran a baseball league, which remained a neighbourhood fixture for several years. She has also helped with the summertime Northern Lights Festival Boréal and continues her role as secretary for the club where she curls.

Rainville’s entire career was spent with Laurentian Chrysler. She retired in 2016 after more than 40 years of service. It all started back when she was a student working after school at the dealership answering the phones. 

“I basically helped with anything and everything,” she said. “Working from the ground up was the best training I had to eventually become office manager.” 

It was natural for Rainville to volunteer at work, too. 

“I loved organizing company events and staff activities, especially the kids Christmas parties. My former colleagues were and still are like family.”

In 2000, Rainville read an article about palliative care that touched her heart, and so she signed up for training with the Sudbury Regional Palliative Care Association joining, a close-knit team of dedicated volunteers who help provide end-of-life care. 

“I have always had a soft spot for senior citizens,” she said. “When I read that they are often alone in their golden years and in their last days, I decided this was where I wanted to give my time. I wanted to help palliative patients.”

The association was later rebranded as Warmhearts Palliative Caregivers Sudbury / Manitoulin and subsequently merged into Maison McCulloch Hospice. 

While there are volunteers who interact directly with clients within Maison McCulloch Hospice, Rainville is a member of the community-based volunteer program that supports clients who live outside the hospice. 

“We provide simple comforts to clients, which can also help relieve their personal support workers of tasks that trained volunteers can handle. It’s heartfelt to see what a difference those visits make to our clients. The simplest things that most of us take for granted, like styling their hair, lift their spirits.”

Rainville is also part of a caring team of volunteers that provides care to palliative patients in their own homes. 

“It’s so gratifying to help people stay where they want to be,” she said. “Our visits often give clients’ loved ones a chance to take some time for themselves, whether it’s to rest and rejuvenate, spend time with friends or catch up on errands and appointments.”

Rainville reiterated that volunteering in palliative care is deeply rewarding. 

“People ask me ‘How can you do this – isn’t it depressing?’ My answer is ‘How can you not?’ I’m supporting people in their last days. I learn so much from their stories and wisdom, and I’m proud to be part of the selfless team of professionals and volunteers bringing a little bit of comfort to a heartbreaking situation.”

A couple of years ago, Rainville expanded her volunteer commitment to healthcare by joining Health Sciences North (HSN), where she serves on hospital committees such as the patient and family advisory council. 

“As volunteers, our time and expertise are truly valued by HSN, and it’s so important to get involved,” she said. “Our input is based on first-hand experiences at the grassroots level, and the ideas we bring forward can help impact policy and the future of healthcare.”

Debbie Rainville’s Volunteer Words of Wisdom: 

“Everyone has it in them to provide care for someone else. We all need to do our part. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there to help others. You’ll be rewarded in your heart tenfold.”

Marlene Holkko Moore is a local communications professional and occasional contributor to Sudbury.com.




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