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Nancy Hldinger. Photo: Aaron Cayer/Birling The Ottawa.

Interview: Nancy HiIdinger—The volunteer

By Jamie MacPherson on July 22, 2020

In January, Nancy Mae Hildinger was helping For Pivot’s Sake build skateboards to be donated to less fortunate kids when Aaron Cayer (@aaroncayer), co-owner of Birling The Ottawa, placed one of Birling’s highly limited 2020 community engagement awards beside her and asked “Do you know what this is?” Shocked and speechless, proud and humbled, Nancy replied, “Yes.” The award was completely unexpected, but after seven years of year-round volunteer work, it was well-deserved. This is her story.

Nancy Hildinger. Photo: Aaron Cayer/Birling The Ottawa.

Parents and other role models

The lessons we learn make us who we are. Nancy’s mother Jean Hildinger was always active in the community. She taught Nancy about the importance of giving and how to be a good person. Nancy watched Jean doing anything she could to assist others while treating everyone with respect. One of the countless things Nancy learned from her mom was that “I could do whatever I put my mind to. Seeing her help so many people, I always looked for opportunities to do the same.”

The For Pivot’s Sake clean-up crew. Photo: Aaron Cayer/Birling The Ottawa.

Nancy very much believes in measuring yourself against exceptional persons. In addition to emulating the four owners of Birling for always giving back to the community, Nancy sees Birling team skater Amy Ortis (@nicelybaked) and Megan Dowe (@megand0we!), a leader in the Ottawa Women’s skate scene, as role models. Indeed, these two individuals inspire Nancy to find good things to do and constantly remind her how great a life of community service is. The trio “are always looking out for one another and pushing each other to succeed,” Nancy tells me. ”When you find friends like that, you never let them go.”

Nancy Hildinger. Photo: Aaron Cayer/Birling The Ottawa.

Skating as a journey

At age 16, Nancy answered an Instagram post from Antique Skate Shop looking for volunteers for their Pride Week charity car wash. She didn’t know it at the time, but this chance encounter would change her life forever. There, she met Ottawa skate leaders and her current best friends and experienced volunteering firsthand, laying the groundwork for a life of charity work. “It’s funny to think about how a ‘sexy car wash’ turned my life into what it is today. But it did, and I’m so happy that I decided to go that day,” Nancy says.

That same year Nancy started participating in Girls+ Skate 613 (@girlsskate613) Thursday evening skate nights at the Charlie Bowins Skateboard Park where she began mentoring girls under 10: Teaching confidence, making them feel welcome and comfortable, Nancy held their hands and cheered them on during their skateboarding journeys, and they in turn joined Nancy on her continual quest to help as many people as possible, a pursuit many are noticing. Among them is local skater Jackie Carbajal, who says Nancy “puts a lot of her time and effort into the skate community by volunteering for events and being a friendly face around the skate park. She is someone with a great work ethic and passionate professionalism.”

Nancy Hildinger helps out a younger skater. Photo: Aaron Cayer/Birling The Ottawa.

On top of this, Nancy was lending a hand at a Wednesday night event at the Eastview parking lot in Vanier where underprivileged kids can learn to skate and enjoy a free meal in a welcoming, safe environment. Nancy says taking part in that event “was really a good choice for me.” Not only did she have a great time with the kids, but she also made meaningful connections and important discoveries about herself.

Nancy Hildinger. Photo: Aaron Cayer/Birling The Ottawa.

Volunteering as therapy and a way of life

“Volunteering found me and I found volunteering,” Nancy tells me, with the sounds of skaters at Charlie Bowins in the background. Through volunteering, she found meaning and purpose. She says it helped her sort her life out, and she owes a lot to volunteering.

We all have storms in our lives. In 2017, Nancy was sexually assaulted. Last summer she experienced flashbacks that led to a brief hospitalization. Volunteering aided in her recovery. Immensely therapeutic, it helped her to focus on the good and gave her “something to look forward to and a positive mindset for up to a week after.” It also reminded her that she was a great person who loved volunteering. “You can’t take that away,” she says with certainty.

Nancy lives a volunteer life: “Always looking to help others; always there if others need help,” she says. Birling co-owner Adam Wawrzynczak adds that “Nancy is an ideal volunteer for the Ottawa Skateboard Association. Above all, she is very enthusiastic and dependable. Nancy serves as a constant reminder that skateboarding is fun. She brings that energy with her while teaching the next generation of skateboarders how to roll. Nancy’s the best!” Once a student, now a teacher, Nancy is educating others about why they should be active citizens. At 23, Nancy is wise beyond her years and someone to look up to.

Nancy Hldinger. Photo: Aaron Cayer/Birling The Ottawa.

A new skate leader

Nancy is one of the city’s new skate leaders. Currently, she’s putting together plans to organize her own events and envisioning herself some day on the Ottawa Skate Association’s Board of Directors. Caring, strong, and positive, she’ll make a fine addition. In the meantime, Nancy wants you to try volunteering because, she says, it’s easy, fun, and rewarding. You learn new skills and new things about yourself, meet new people and, most importantly, make a difference in somebody’s life and in the 613. Volunteering was a life-changing experience for Nancy and she hopes you’ll find the same.

Nancy Mae is a carpenter’s apprentice from Ottawa, Ontario. When she’s not working, she spends her time volunteering and sharing her passion for skateboarding with others. She also loves a great skate sesh with her friends. Check out her Instagram @nancy__mae to follow her adventures.