Academic Perseverance Centre now open in Verdun

By Tracey Arial

A 34 year old organization that has been helping students stay in school has a brand new three-storey building thanks to a generous donation from a private business.

Toujours Ensemble opened the Marcelle and Jean Coutu Academic Perseverance Centre on Second Avenue in Verdun last Monday.

Among the many spokespeople at the launch was 19-year-old Maria-Daniela Rojas-Rincon. Rojas-Rincon credits Toujours Ensemble (TE) for her current success in CEGEP.

“I’ve been coming here since I was nine years old, and this place is the reason I’ve always done well in school,” she said. “My goal now is Mathieu Sage’s job.”

Sage is second in command to Pierre Côté, president and executive director of Pathways Quebec. Pathways is the provincial wing of a national program that aims to stem Canada’s high school drop-out rate. The five-person team rents offices on the third floor of the new building.

Rojas Rincon is on track for her dream now, but her path towards success wasn’t so rosy when she joined TE’s Parcours program a decade ago. One of every two students in Verdun doesn’t finish high school.

“Verdun has one of the highest drop-out rates in Montreal and that’s not often known because it includes Nuns’ Island and that means the statistics are skewed,” says Rachel Renaud, TE’s executive director.

Renaud’s team works hard to lower those statistics one student at a time. Any person aged between six and 17 years who lives in Verdun can join Toujour Ensemble’s Parcours program, which offers drop-in homework help, a library, a computer room and funding for school supplies and scholarships.

“We’ve graduated two cohorts of students and we’re on our third group in May,” she said The much-needed programs cost about $2 million to operate every year, and the Coutu Foundation has been sponsoring the organization since its inception.

In the past couple of years, students started crowding into various rental spaces around town, so the organization began looking at possibilities for expansion. Yet they were reluctant to take their emphasis off operational fundraising. 

The Coutu family offered to donate an old medical centre building that they had originally planned to sell. Toujours ensemble planned to renovate it, but asbestos and other challenges made that impossible. Foundations operated by the Steinbergs, the Renauds and Zellers chipped in to ensure that the new $3.1 million building can be fully paid off.

The entire Coutu family attended the launch last MOnday. Renaud said they were visibly moved as students and parents thanked them for all their help. Marcelle, Jean and Sylvie Coutu even got up on stage next to Foundation spokeswoman Marie-Josée Coutu as she spoke of their commitment coeducation success.

“We’re so blessed,” said Renaud.

She’s now planning the 35th anniversary next year, which might well include the official inauguration of their older building on Verdun street.

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