Finlandia Village volunteer Nicole Dignard has not only helped fellow seniors find solace and rekindle joy in their lives, she has also developed friendships that bring special meaning to her own life.
Dignard, 64, moved to Minnow Lake in 2017, after living her entire life in St. Charles, a town located about 60 km east of Sudbury. She grew up in a Francophone family of eight kids — six brothers and one sister. They all went to elementary school in St. Charles, and attended French River District High School in nearby Noelville.
For several decades, the family business, Roy’s Clothing, has been a community fixture on King Street in St. Charles. Originally established by her parents, Omer and Aurea Roy, their son Claude took over operating the retailer almost 40 years ago.
“Growing up, all us kids helped out in the store,” said Dignard. “I’m so glad my brother continues the family business.”
After graduating high school, she worked at a local grocery story and then as a bartender, marrying André Dignard, a trucker with Eddy Forest Products, in 1975. They were together 38 years before his passing.
In 2017, Dignard sold the marital home in St. Charles.
“I decided to move to Sudbury, where my sister. Linda, and brother, Larry, have raised their families and are now grandparents. It was very comforting to have a fresh start and still be near family.”
She felt that a larger centre like Sudbury could offer a variety of volunteer opportunities and activities to help lift her spirits and help keep her active and healthy.”
Dignard also feels blessed to come from a large family, which includes several nieces and nephews, along with their own growing families.
“Our reunions host over 60 family members.”
Although she didn’t have children of her own, Dignard enjoyed running a daycare at her home in St. Charles. She had also volunteered at L’Église St. Charles Borromée, where she assisted the priest in the preparation of mass.
“I was also responsible for preparing children for their First Communion and Confirmation ceremonies. There are so many special memories, and it’s wonderful to keep in touch with my hometown.”
Moving to Greater Sudbury three years ago was a major undertaking for someone who had spent their childhood and adult life in a small, tightly knit community. But, with the support of immediate family already settled here, Dignard was encouraged to search for volunteer work that suited her interests.
“I wanted to occupy my time helping seniors, and I was fortunate to join the volunteer team at Finlandia Village.”
Dignard is happy to have a flexible schedule at Finlandia, one that accommodates her personal schedule.
“Pre-COVID, I would typically spend three days a week there. It was convenient since I live near the facility, and easy because I know my tasks and what needs to be done on each day. Up until March of this year, I was helping with group activities. Some residents, for example, love bingo but have a difficult time physically handling the bingo cards. I especially enjoyed my one-on-one visits with the residents. We played card games or do puzzles together.”
One of the personal activities Dignard discovered at Finlandia Village is trail trekking.
“Anyone 55 or over is welcomed to join in nature walks and snow-shoeing around the property.”
The trail is about a mile long.
“It’s a simple, relaxed way to keep fit and healthy in your senior years.” The leader of the walking group stops along the trail to conduct some simple exercises and then, once they return to the main building, a few cool down moves in the courtyard or inside finish up the exhilarating trek.
Although the pandemic has temporarily halted Dignard’s personal visits with the residents of Finlandia, she found a way to continue volunteering there. She lovingly tends to the flower gardens and beautiful planters in the courtyard area.
“I wear a mask while I’m weeding and watering. It’s incredibly important to take all precautions, whether you’re inside or outside.
“Everyone at Finlandia is so welcoming and accommodating. Every volunteer knows just how much they are appreciated by the residents and staff. I don’t travel extensively, so I’m really looking forward to adding my regular routine to working in the gardens.
“My visits are always uplifting, both for the residents and for me. Their smiles when you come into their rooms or when you join them in the common areas — it’s truly heartwarming.”
Volunteering brings such joy to the lives of others and to those who are giving back.
Nicole Dignard’s Volunteer Words of Wisdom
If you’re a senior living alone, volunteering is an excellent way to help someone else who’s alone. It helps reduce your loneliness, too, because you’re in the company of others who become dear friends.
Volunteers at seniors’ residences and nursing homes make such a difference in the lives of the residents. A simple game of cards can lift their spirits. It’s a good feeling to know that whatever time I give, my friendship means so much to them.
Marlene Holkko Moore is a local communications professional and occasional contributor to Sudbury.com.