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Helpers: Meet the unstoppable Maggie Julien, Finlandia Village volunteer

‘For me, volunteering encourages inclusivity. People see past my wheelchair and allow the real me to shine through’
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Finlandia Village volunteer Maggie Julien said she gets as much, or more, out of volunteering as do the residents with whom she works. (Image: Supplied)

By her own admission, Maggie Julien is unstoppable, and that tenacity is ever-present in her dedication to making a difference in the lives of older adults.

Julien, 28, grew up in New Sudbury. Cerebral palsy means she uses a wheelchair, but she certainly hasn’t let physical challenges hold her back.

In 2015, Julien graduated from Cambrian College with a diploma in Social Services. “I chose that field of study because I’ve always been interested in helping others, and I was also exploring a potential career in the area of gerontology.”

Although her first field placement didn’t work out, she decided to keep searching, and before long she landed what really was the best opportunity ever.

A few months before graduation, Julien’s college friend and mentor, Tessa Keaney, encouraged her to consider pursuing a position with Finlandia Village. “To be honest, I had no idea where the organization was located, but I trusted Tessa to have my best interests at heart.” 

At her friend’s urging, Julien became a Finlandia volunteer. “It opened the door to an opportunity for me to apply my education and fulfil my passion for working with seniors. If it weren’t for Tessa, I wouldn’t be part of the Finlandia family today.”

At the time Julien joined Finlandia’s volunteer team, there was an immediate need for help with their music program. “There weren’t enough volunteers involved in that initiative, so they really needed technical help right away and I was excited to pitch in and get started.” 

And pitching in and getting started was exactly what Julien did, said Jeanna de la Morandiere, Finlandia Village’s volunteer program co-ordinator, 

“Maggie jumped on board without hesitation and went full steam ahead. As our Music & Memory program ambassador, she helps download music for our residents, hosts information and orientation events, and spends quality time with residents individually and small-group gatherings.” 

Life enrichment staff load residents’ iPods with their favourite songs (or if the resident is unable to recognize the music, staff loads tunes that family members have provided). They will also consult with family to determine what the resident might enjoy. 

Julien can provide feedback in this process as well. Equipped with a headset, residents can relax and listen to familiar tunes. Julien cannot independently handle the headset, so she uses a portable speaker.

“Music is proven to have a positive impact and it’s known to reduce negative feelings and behaviours. Even those residents who cannot walk or talk often end up mouthing the words to songs they hear. You can just see the joy in their faces and in their body language.”

Julien dedicates four hours a week to Music & Memory, a service Finlandia Village is certified to offer to residents. Julien leads groups of six to 10 residents in each session. 

Among her other tasks and duties at the Village, Julien simply spends one-on-one time with many of the residents. “They look beyond my wheelchair and that makes all the difference in the world to me.”

For Julien, her volunteer position is the most effective and ethical way for her to work and give back at the same time. “Although my responsibilities could be accomplished without my specific educational background, I know that my schooling has helped me be more cognizant of residents’ abilities and limitations.  And, because I’m sensitive to their needs, I also have confidence reaching out to older people.”

Plus, Julie said she has learned so much through volunteering at Finlandia over the past five years. “It’s such a beautiful place and I’ve made so many friends there.” Although not everyone participates in the music program, Julien knows at least 80 of the residents by name and enjoys visiting with everyone as much as possible.

In 2018, Julien’s dedication was recognized with a Circle of Excellence Award from the Ontario Long Term Care Association (OLTCA). De la Morandiere explained that this award honours volunteers within OLTCA member homes, who faithfully contribute their time and caring services to residents. “We nominated Maggie because of her tireless efforts working to help build the Music & Memory program at Finlandia. Within a three-year span, she had already contributed close to 1,000 volunteer hours.”

Outside of her volunteer life, Julien has a strong passion for boccia, a Paralympic sport related to the Italian game ‘bocce’, a kind of lawn-bowling. In her first major competition — the 2018 Boccia Blast held in London — her team, Team Play, earned an impressive bronze standing. The following year, she was on Team Ontario, competing at the 26th annual Canadian Boccia Championships in Victoria, B.C. Once again, her team won a bronze medal. “I’ve been blessed to be mentored by the Cryderman family. Lance and his wife Danielle took me under their wing even off the boccia court. I’m forever grateful for their inspiration and friendship.”

Maggie Julien’s Volunteer Words of Wisdom

Everyone wants to feel a sense of belonging, whatever challenges they may face in life. For me, volunteering encourages inclusivity. People see past my wheelchair and allow the real me to shine through. I volunteer to feel included and I pass it on so that others feel valued, too. We all have the capacity to make a difference in someone’s life. It’s a privilege for me to give back and I get so much more in return.

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




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