By Tracey Arial
Now that school is winding down, the Val Martin Community Centre invites parents to drop by, meet their employees and register for programs in September before they fill up.
“We have two different programs to prepare children for school, one for four-year-olds and one for three-year-olds,” said Brigitte Kalamaras, the coordinator of Val Martin’s Maison de la famille.
La Petite école for four-year-olds operates one day a week from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. from September until May. There are two classes of 12 infants each and they always fill up.
Les jardins d’enfants is a similar program for infants who are only three-years-old. It was developed specifically to help newcomers to Quebec. “We have a lot of immigrant families who appreciate the opportunity to immerse their children in the French language before they get to school,” said Kalamaras. “I expect les jardins d’enfants to fill up quickly.”
Teens aren’t left out either. Every Wednesday, including tonight, youth aged 11-17 years can participate in a souper communautaire. Later in the summer, family barbecues for everyone will be held outdoors.
In fact, there’s almost always something happening in one of the spaces that Val Martin Community Centre operates, from 8 a.m-10 p.m..
The centre has a circle of buildings including child care, a teen recreation centre, a parent drop-in centre, a community kitchen, a friperie boutique and an activity centre for at-risk teens.
Sponsors enable the centre to keep lots of healthy snacks on hand to serve to anyone who is hungry.
Three social workers offer assistance casually to anyone onsite. Rousseau says that it’s much better to get to know people casually so that they know who to reach out to when they face some sort of crisis. Many of the people who spend time at the centre are new immigrants without extended families or people from single-parent families.
Programs are operated by full-time staff, interns or 52 different volunteers. All the services are provided in French, but volunteers speak at least 12 different languages to ensure that their varied clientele can ask questions.
Last year, 6,814 people used one or many of the services. About two thirds of the people serviced by the centre live in the Val Martin neighbourhood, which services the community of Chomedey.
“Our goal is to welcome people to drop by whenever they want,” said Manon Rousseau, the founder and director of the 22 year old community project. “This is supposed to feel like someone’s grandmothers’ or favourite aunt’s house. We work hard to make the environment social so that people feel comfortable hanging out with us.”