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Meet the 'Tita Dolly' of the local Filipino community

Dolores Hizon's says she'll keep helping people as long as she's healthy and able to

If you ask many Filipinos in Timmins who to reach out to in a time of need, the name Tita (a Filipino term meaning aunt) Dolly or Dolores Hizon comes to mind as the go-to woman.

Since 1996, she has been helping newcomers to Timmins find their footing in a new country.

For instance, Charmaine Coral Deogracias, also a Filipino immigrant, who relocated from Toronto to Timmins for work, met Tita Dolly through a local Filipino bus driver.

The bus driver told Deogracias that he would give her number to Tita Dolly.

The next day, Deogracias received a call.

"I came to Timmins at the height of winter 2022, at the shock of -45 degrees temperature. But I found warmth in the kind of welcome that (Tito) Dolly extended to me," Deogracias said.

"The simple act of checking on me if I need anything, a ride to Shoppers to pick up my parcel, a little tour around to show and tell me where is what, and a plate of her home-cooked noodles went a long way in that cold winter alone in Timmins," she added.

Helping Filipino newcomers settle in their new home is what Hizon does, making them feel welcome to Timmins and lessen their homesickness by organizing parties and events the way Filipinos would celebrate them back home.

For Jomel Firmalino and her family, on the other hand, Tita Dolly is like a fairy godmother.

Firmalino said they came to Timmins with nothing — no money, winter clothes or food — and not knowing anyone.

"We are aware that the place where we will stay does not have any furniture and is totally empty," Firmalino said in a separate interview.

They did not know about Tita Dolly, and it was one of the employees where Firmalino now works who contacted and informed Hizon of the Firmalino's arrival.

Hizon said upon knowing their situation, she raised funds and asked for donations from fellow Filipinos. She used the money collected to buy bedding, furniture, a month’s worth of groceries, winter clothes and baby clothes for Firmalino's one-year-old baby.

"During our quarantine, Tita Dolly never failed to check and ask us what we needed and most of the time she will just call us and bring food and stuff that we might need even if we don't ask," Firmalino added.

Like Deogracias, Hizon also gave them a ride and showed them around Timmins, giving them advice on how to adapt to life in a new town.

"To the point that she even helped us financially...We really thank God for Tita Dolly's heart, which is full of love," she added.

There are generous Filipinos here in Timmins who are always willing to help, Hizon said.

She explained the generous trait shows the Filipino's "Bayanihan" culture or "community spirit" where they help out one's neighbour as a community and do a task together, thus lessening the workload and making the job easier.

"I still bring the Filipino culture here," she said, by organizing a feast, Christmas parties, karaoke (which Filipinos are fond of doing), and cooked Filipino food they many miss.

Since 1996 she's organized a "casual" group of Filipinos and Canadians called Maharlika Pinoy Community in Timmins, where they get together as family to celebrate events and socialize. 

"We have that group for fun and a way for us to get together or catch up," she said, adding that from 70 families at the beginning, they are now 200 families who always participate in any events she organized.

Hizon originally came from San Juan, located in the central part of the Philippines' capital, Manila.

She was the breadwinner for the family, supporting her two siblings after losing her mother at a very young age.

She was forced to make a living at 10 years old, doing odd jobs, such as babysitting, and sometimes had to rely on the kindness of neighbours to loan them rice to feed her and her siblings for the week. Once she was old enough, Hizon left the Philippines for Singapore to earn a better living for her and her family, working as a caregiver.  

Hizon moved to Timmins in July 1988 as a caregiver for a Canadian family, Ted and Elodie Tichinoff. She said she was lucky to have met her employer because they helped her acclimatize to a new life in Timmins.

They introduced her to cross-country skiing, skating, swimming and gave her a bicycle that she used to get around town. She kept using the bike until 2000, when she took her driving test.

The help and support she got from her new Canadian family made her want to give back to others getting established in the community.

“I feel happy when I’m able to help other people. I’m happy that other Filipinos treated me like family, so in return, I treat newcomers as family. When I help, I never expect anything in return. It always comes from the heart," she said.

Since she came to Canada, she helped better the lives of her family back in the Philippines, providing references for Filipino and Southeast Asians looking to complete their citizenship applications, and raising funds for people in need.

Hizon brought a vibrancy to the Timmins community, by organizing festivals and helping keep the Filipino culture and tradition strong and vibrant.

She has no plans of slowing down.

“I’ll keep helping people as long as I can and [I am] healthy, and as long as I am in Canada," she said.  Her only wish is that those who she helps also pay it forward to others in need in Timmins.