The house where “we can talk about everything”
Thursday evening. True to form, Nandini Gupta and Ojaswani Singh talk about looks of Hailey Bieber and the hilarious new Snapchat filter between two games of ping-pong.
The two 16- and 17-year-old girls weren’t going to the park or home when they left Lucien-Pagé high school. It is at the Jeunesse unie community center in Parc-Extension that they meet at the end of school to do their homework, eat a snack, confide in an adult… and gossip.
I really come every day. This is my safe space.
Nandini, with a big smile
Her best friend, slumped in the comfortable armchair, henna on her hands, nods in agreement.
Their conversation is interrupted by resounding rap music. The brightly colored walls are covered with slogans, paintings and posters reminding people to take care of their mental health.
For more than 20 years, the United Youth Center in Parc-Extension has stood out among neighborhood teenagers. Young occupants are supervised throughout their journey.
If young people are attached to the centre, it is because there is sometimes the syndrome of the second generation young person in this sector populated by new arrivals. ” A clash culture with parents. They know they can talk to us about anything,” explains youth worker Marco Gauthier.
Many have taken root there.
Thursday evening, we also discuss Quebec rap in sentences where Arabic, French, English and Punjabi intertwine.
“We can talk about everything, our problems. No one is judging us here. There are things I won’t talk about at home, but here I don’t mind,” says Ojaswani.
His parents have peace of mind. “They know I don’t hang out in the park. They know the stakeholders. »
A few weeks earlier, at Saint-Roch Park near her home, the young girl saw her friend being stabbed. “A group of young people wanted to steal his Jordans “, she says.
She was with her brothers and her friends. “They came to talk to my friend, started beating him and then pulled out a knife. »
In the park, in the schoolyard and – especially – on social networks, some young people witness drug transactions, firearms and violent conflicts, adds Mr. Gauthier. Having a place to go to “unpack their bag” without taboos makes them feel secure.
Young people even told us: “Without you, things could have gone wrong.”
Marco Gauthier, worker at the United Youth Center
Marco Gauthier is almost part of the furniture. He has been working at the youth center for 23 years. “I’ve seen it happen. It’s a sector where everyone mixes, there are a lot of newcomers. »
The key to the center’s success? Low staff turnover.
“But to keep our world, we need good salaries. And to offer them, you have to invest. That’s what we’re talking about when we ask people to invest in prevention. These are not empty words. Yacine, a counselor who attended the center in his youth, chose to work there. After nine years, he’s not even making $20 an hour.
Help with homework and the prevention of dropping out of school are given priority. “If you do well in school, you have a better chance of not making choices that have serious consequences. You have hope for your future,” continues Marco Gauthier. It was able to hire eight chaperones for some twenty students thanks to the budget offered as part of the youth crime prevention strategy of the borough of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension.
Focus on school
The young Azaël Andog-Naba, a tall smiling teenager with a strong voice and a rich vocabulary, is moved when asked what the youth center has given him. “It was an escape. I met my best friends there. »
It was more difficult for him to go to school towards the end of his secondary school. “I didn’t really have the motivation anymore. »
His mother, alone, came from Burkina Faso when Azaël was young. His older brothers joined them as part of their university studies. “I feel like we come from different backgrounds. It’s hard to tell them that sometimes I don’t want to go [à l’école]. »
He befriends a United Youth educator, Yacine. “He went where I went. He used to go to the youth center. »
Pupils with academic difficulties are more likely to make bad choices outside. School support is essential, adds Mr. Gauthier. “But it’s hard to do your homework if your parents don’t even speak French or don’t have the same basics as you. »
There is a lot of catching up [scolaire] to do with our post-pandemic young people.
“When I grow up and walk past this building, I know I will always have a smile. I will always remember the giggles and our ravings here. I will never forget my guys from the youth center,” adds Azaël. He is not the only one to have broadened his horizons within the four walls of the spacious building.
“Me, there are cooking classes that I really like,” says his friend Karamba D’Salim timidly.
” Oh ! There are also videos we make about what’s going on in the neighborhood. Like news topos, ”adds his sidekick Raed Jamal, 17.
The “Youth Committee” and “Passion Awakeners” programs fill a crying need among young people: to find a passion and a goal. Models who look like them come to talk about their job to show young people that life is not limited to a few career prospects.
“They are the leaders of tomorrow, let’s give them models and good influences so that they make good choices”, sums up Marco Gauthier.
- Financial contribution from the borough of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension granted to nine sector organizations
SOURCE: Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension borough
- Amount granted in 2022 by the borough to the United Youth Center
SOURCE: Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension borough