Thanks to her dedication to community, 17-year-old Haylee Verdon is not only helping make a positive difference in the lives of others, but this busy volunteer’s charity work is helping her develop the inner strength and self-confidence to achieve her life and career goals.
Haylee’s parents are Jazz Hardy, a miner and volunteer firefighter, and Shannon Findlay, an active community volunteer. Employed by Conseil scolaire Catholique du Nouvel Ontario, Findlay has remained home during the pandemic to homeschool her youngest child, Ellie.
Volunteering is a big part of everyday life for Haylee and the entire family.
Jazz has been a volunteer firefighter with the Onaping Falls Fire Department for the last three years. He and his father, Serge Hardy, are active members of the Chevalier de Colomb-Knights of Columbus District 80, a Catholic not-for-profit organization devoted to serving parish and community.
Endearingly deemed the ‘volunteer queen of Dowling’, Shannon has been a community volunteer for 25 years. She and her mother, Jackie Findlay, have been very involved in one of Greater Sudbury’s most popular annual events, the Cavalcade of Colours.
“My mom organizes the car show, and my grandmother organizes the crafters area with Lions Club members. They’re a strong team,” Haylee said. “Whenever someone from the community recruits my mom to help with a fundraising project, she’s there to lend a hand. She inspires me every day with all she does.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Shannon, Haylee and Ellie all worked alongside their local Lions Club to ensure the community didn’t miss out on the parades they would normally enjoy. At Easter, a cavalcade of five decorated cars and the Easter Bunny drove through neighbourhoods, bringing cheer to a homebound community.
“We also helped with a ‘thank you’ parade of almost 20 vehicles to acknowledge local front-line workers. That was very emotional. A special [Santa Drive By] on Dec. 20 will bring even more smiles to area residents.”
Although Haylee’s sister is only four, she is already getting some hands-on volunteer experience.
“Ellie has helped make signs for the community parades, and she is our Leo Club mascot. She attends almost every event, and I really enjoy mentoring her.”
“It’s a blessing to have had so many volunteer opportunities growing up. For youth especially, volunteering can be scary because they don’t know what to expect. For me, living in a family that cares about giving back means community involvement comes naturally. Volunteering really isn’t intimidating at all. In fact, it’s actually a lot of fun.”
Haylee is vice-president of the Onaping Falls District A5 Leo Club, which is, basically, a group of junior Lions. Lions Clubs International is a charitable non-profit organization whose members work together to improve their local community and who are dedicated to serving others through acts of kindness.
Leo members range in age from 12 to 18.
“Our group is around 20 members who reside in Onaping, Dowling, Levack, the Valley and Chelmsford. We’re considered ‘mini Lions’ because we’re not old enough to be Lions, so we contribute to the organization by assisting them with various projects.”
Haylee has been a Leo for several years.
“I was born around the time of the 2003 Cavalcade of Colours, and my mom was a member of the Onaping Falls Lions Club so it was second nature for me to feel at home with the club from a very early age.”
While COVID-19 has shelved in-person gatherings for now, virtual meetings are still feasible, and Lions and Leo members are continuing their community work. For Haylee and her family, that includes helping with a number of ongoing club initiatives.
“Giving back has been such a rewarding experience. A lot of young people are tied to their devices 24/7. Volunteering is a break from that; it’s also a great stress reliever and it feels really good to help people and get to know them.”
Haylee has given back in many ways over the years.
Besides her longstanding involvement with the Leo Club and Cavalcade of Colours, she has volunteered with the Greater Sudbury Police Service and the annual Sudbury Mudmoiselle fundraiser for cancer research. She has also helped organize a community baby shower to help support single mothers and fathers.
As well as participating in her school’s ‘Me to We’ association, Haylee is very involved in the Ecole eco environmental group, working alongside teachers to encourage students and staff to reduce waste. That passion for the environment inspired her participation in Fridays for Future Sudbury demonstrations.
In December 2019, Haylee and her mother founded the Blessings Bag Project, an initiative supporting Greater Sudbury’s homeless population. With the help of the Leo Club and Lions Club, they filled backpacks with clothing, winter gear, blankets, towels and hygiene items.
“Many residents and area businesses supported us so generously with their in-kind and cash donations. We promoted the project at homeless shelters and missions, and distributed Blessings Bags to more than 200 people. It was such a heartwarming experience at the Elgin Street Mission. Everyone was so appreciative and, if they didn’t need a particular item in the bag, they gave it back to benefit someone else. They passed on the kindness.”
Haylee’s experience with the Leo and Lions Clubs, along with several other community initiatives, has helped her develop a strong sense of self and a vision for her future.
She’s no longer shying away from a potential career as an actor.
“I have the confidence to pursue my passions and not worry if I can’t achieve my dreams.”
Her first opportunity to follow the arts professionally will come in the near future when she will be a young background actor in an upcoming movie being filmed in Greater Sudbury.
“It’s a small part, but I’m so excited to have the chance to experience a movie set and all the chaos and creativity that comes along with it.”
Haylee Verdon’s Inspirational Words of Wisdom
It’s important to be aware of the world around you, not only as an adult, but while you’re growing up. Volunteering is a life experience. It gives you the opportunity to socialize and build your self-confidence in the face of challenges and change.
Volunteering builds character and life skills, as well as improving your grades in school. It can help you overcome anxiety. It’s a stress buster. Through community involvement, I developed better communication skills and overcame my shyness around people I don’t know.
Being with a group of peers like the Leo Club, you inspire one another, and help each other overcome fears to step out of your comfort zone. We’re like a little family of friends. Because we have the same desire to help others, we know that we can also count on one another like family.
Marlene Holkko Moore is a local communications professional and regular contributor to Sudbury.com. Learn more about Sudbury.com’s Community Leaders Program here.