When Richelle Hirlehey’s father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s six years ago, she wanted to learn more. As she learned and understood, she realized she wanted to give back to the organization that supported both her father and his family. Richelle has now been volunteering and supporting Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario (PSSO) for over three years.
Her first volunteer experience was with the Hair Affair committee, helping to organize and oversee the event. She then moved on to join the Walk-It for Parkinson’s committee in 2019 and was thrilled with both events to have her partner Doug, daughter Ella, step-daughter Kirsten and step-son Dylan, join her on her volunteer journey.
In 2019, Richelle was the committee chair for the annual WALK-IT for Parkinson’s held at Springbank Park in London, where she, in her words, “worked with a small but incredible group of volunteers and Parkinson’s team members.” And as we all know, 2020 brought changes. The annual walk became a virtual event, renamed “WALK THE BLOCK for Parkinson’s.” Richelle took on the role of stewardship on the Regional Committee and assisted with marketing and many aspects of planning for this new and creative way of supporting the organization. “Community participation and support were impressive,” Richelle states. “We worked with online donations, the sponsors continued with their support and friends and family got involved. Walking the block gave people flexibility because they were able to walk through their own neighbourhood when it was convenient for them. Some chose conservation areas or different routes, but regardless of where participants chose to walk, the pictures taken during these walks shared the excitement and dedication to the event just as much as in previous years. The compassion and care of the community were clear.”
When Richelle isn’t volunteering for PSSO, she holds a busy schedule as a full-time kindergarten teacher with the Thames Valley District School Board. She enjoys a part-time role as the assistant director for Dance Extreme, educating and inspiring children and youth in both learning the basics of dance and supporting their achievements through the competitive dance program. Richelle’s self-care routine includes yoga, reading and plenty of family time, including nature walks and outdoor activities. The entire Hirlehey/Maczko family has also shared time together, participating in the “Meals from the Heart” dinner program at Ronald McDonald House.
Richelle continues to volunteer with PSSO because of the powerful connection with others. “Seeing everyone come together and support each other is so meaningful and empowering. Everyone is so giving and overall, it’s a very family-oriented environment, which is important to me. It makes my heart feel good, and the connection with others becomes an informal type of support group for all of us. I have so many gifts in my life and an incredible family, and to volunteer here at PSSO is a way to be involved and give back to my community.”
Richelle says she will definitely continue to stay involved and is looking forward to supporting in the new and creative ways we now need and to help where she can. One lesson she’s learned from the events of the past few months is that it has forced many of us to slow down. As a result, we see that slowing down isn’t such a bad thing. It allows us to spend more time with those who matter, help where we can and celebrate all that we truly have.