The Helping Hands Society of Cochrane and Area is shy of an executive director as of this week, while Cochrane Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) has gained a new coordinator.
Chairra Nicolle, who helped steer Helping Hands through a tumultuous two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, is now lending her altruistic nature and non-profit expertise to reach people in the community through FCSS, a department of the Town of Cochrane.
“I’m looking forward to helping the community in different facets,” said Nicolle. “Being able to support seniors, poverty reduction, being able to support the community helper program with mental health, and just having a different reach and aspect that I can help the community as a whole and have a pulse on what’s going on with all the different demographics.”
Nicolle’s want to help others is very much at the forefront of who she is.
Early in her career, Nicolle ran support services in long-term care facilities and has worked closely with those diagnosed with dementia. When her son was little, she ran a day home while attending post-secondary for recreation therapy to support gerontology.
“My passion is helping people and supporting those that can’t help themselves,” she said. “I’m definitely a helper at heart.
“Helping and supporting – whether it’s young adults or seniors – that’s what I like to do.”
As much as she enjoyed helping out where she could, Nicolle admits it wasn’t until she joined Helping Hands that she began to appreciate the impact of volunteerism – another form of aiding the community.
“The more I saw it in the community, the more I wanted to get involved,” she said.
With the non-profit group, Nicolle saw countless tonnes of food donated and collected, walkways shovelled, lawns mowed, people chauffeured, and households moved, all with the help of an army of volunteers.
“Cochrane is so generous with their time, with their financial donations, with their hearts. It’s so empowering to see how much the community comes together to support each other,” she said.
“It’s a joyful experience to try and recruit volunteers and make an impact in the community when you know that you have a big portion of the community who is rallying behind you to support those initiatives.”
In the last year alone, Helping Hands opened two free food sheds in Cochrane. They had the community’s help building the sheds and continue to receive the community’s help keeping them filled for all those who need to use them.
Food security programs manager April Baird said when she brought up the idea of building a free food shed in Cochrane, Nicolle was all ears.
“She was 100 per cent supportive as [she] always was in her role,” said Baird. “There was never a bad idea that was brought to the table.”
Baird and Melia Hayes, Helping Hands programs manager, were brought on as full-time employees at the same time as Nicolle in August 2020.
The timing of the trio’s introduction made growth for the non-profit easy, Baird added.
“We kind of came on in the middle of the pandemic when I think the community really needed our services and our programs,” she said. “And, when people found themselves with extra time, they all needed an outlet for that time on the volunteer spectrum.
“Having a couple of staffers on board also meant we could do some awareness development and really kick it up on social media and tell people about Helping Hands and what we do.”
When it comes to the question of filling Nicolle’s shoes at Helping Hands, Baird acknowledged it’s going to be a task and a half to find a replacement.
“It definitely feels like a teammate is missing right now,” she said. “The three of us have really bonded working together to serve the community and we’re excited about the opportunity that someone else is going to have here.”
Lucky for Nicolle, her new office is hardly a hop, skip and a jump away, and she won’t have to look far to reflect on her time with Helping Hands – they’re under the same roof as FCSS at 209 2 Avenue W, and the two organizations work together closely.
Nicolle said she also plans to continue volunteering with the non-profit, along with her family, who’ve become just as entrenched in serving the community as she has.