/Online storyteller keeps it real
Jaime and Holly read a story during one of their broadcasts.

Online storyteller keeps it real

By Sue Tiffin

When Jaime Bilodeau was little, she wanted to be “the girl version of  Indiana Jones.”
As an adult, the branch assistant at Minden Hills library now says, “I’m never going to do that in real life. The closest thing I guess, is reading about it.”
Growing up on Madeleine L’Engle books and MAD magazine, as well as chapter books that her mom read her at bedtime rather than picture books, which kept her up at night, Bilodeau has always been a voracious reader who consumes information. Now, she uses what she has learned to help others.
Bilodeau was born in Quebec, but around the age of three moved to West Guilford, where her mom is from.
“My mom is that perfect example of single mom who worked really hard to get off of social assistance, bettered herself and did it all on her own,” said Bilodeau, whose dad died when she was nine while her mom was pregnant with Bilodeau’s sister.
That strong work ethic was passed to Bilodeau, who said she has been working since she was about 14 – her first job was at Birch Point Lodge, where her family worked for decades, but she’s also worked at call centres, in palliative foster care and overhauling airplane compasses.
At 21 she moved to Barrie to pursue a career in child and youth work but returned home a few years later and began working, like many residents here, numerous part-time jobs.
When a Community Access Program internship through the county came up, Bilodeau signed up, assisting people with technology, but saw the opportunity to help elsewhere, doing anything that was needed.
“I just started picking up odd jobs as a student would,” she said. “I took anything I could get, whether it’s three hours at a Stanhope branch and covering someone’s lunch in Haliburton, it didn’t matter, I did it. It was a really good job, and you know that to live here you have to at least get your foot in the door. And in the meantime, while your foot is in the door you can’t be lazy and just sit there and expect things to happen, you have to butcher wild game, or wax and wash airplanes at the [Stanhope] airport.”
Bilodeau’s life experience, and her interest in listening and learning from people, have equipped her with the information and awareness she needs to be able to help library patrons – with finding books and accessing technology and programming, but also in some cases with helping connect someone to an after-school tutor, or a home to live in.
“The job is really assisting people in either obtaining information or services or whatever, and that’s not really a hard job for me because I live here and I know everything already,” said Bilodeau. “It’s the job where I can utilize almost every single aspect of every job I’ve had in my life.”
And then, laughing: “It’s beneficial too, to have grown up in West Guilford, gone to school in Haliburton, and now I live in Minden. My coworker is from Gooderham so we have the whole county covered.”
Bilodeau calls the library a “place of refuge,” where anyone can go to feel safe and supported, which is important to her in her passion for vulnerable and marginalized people.
“I don’t care if you’ve robbed a bank or if you’re the model citizen of the world,” said Bilodeau. “We’re here to provide a service and hopefully you’re using that service to better yourself or make a difference in the world somehow.”
She doesn’t ever really know what her day might look like.
“It’s just so diverse, the information is diverse, and people’s requests are diverse,” she said. “Every day looks different. Every request could be different.”
Nowadays, her work day looks much different than it has in the past, and she shares it with her daughter, Holly Carpenter. After the library closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, Bilodeau, with the unpredictable and adorable Holly as her co-host, began creating videos online for HCPL patrons to stay connected. Converting her mudroom into a video room, Bilodeau plans the book reading and craft or activity with Holly’s  input and hopes to be reaching families who are missing the library.
Watching Bilodeau on screen as she offers a library service while also keeping her eye on her only child has connected parents trying to juggle responsibilities at home. The videos used to be filmed live but are now edited and uploaded in part to prevent any unintentional unscripted moments, but Bilodeau said it’s important to her to do them well, offering something that is valuable as well as real.
“I think it’s important, in the videos that Holly and I do, I don’t do myself all up, I don’t put makeup on, it’s not about me,” said Bilodeau. “I try to brush her hair, but sometimes I don’t. It’s important for parents to see that I’m still at home and I’m still struggling with something to do every day. I’m still figuring these things out, and let’s do it together.”
Noting that Holly can be entertained by the craft or activity for hours after the videos are recorded, Bilodeau said she hopes the storytelling sessions also offer a chance for parents to find some quiet time for themselves.
“I know that if parents are able to do some of those things with their kids,
then they’ll probably sit there and play with it for another two hours and then that parent will get time to, I don’t know, sit down for five seconds and breathe,” said Bilodeau.
Holly, who once had no online presence, is getting used to being a star.
“She talks to the camera all the time,” said Bilodeau. “She’s always like, [this friend is] watching me right now. Hi guys, hi friends.”
Bilodeau called this time home “a gift.”
“She totally misses daycare, her friends, she misses that too, but when she
thinks back, I think she’ll be like, I don’t think all my other friends got to spend all that time with their mom and do all those fun things,” said Bilodeau. “I did to a certain extent, but none of us really got to stay home, like this.”
Bilodeau said she has had to work hard in order to live the life she wants to live here, but in doing so, has found happiness.