Every summer, throughout Quebec, 120 teens get their hands dirty and work on sustainable development projects in their neighbourhoods. What happens? Beauty and greenery flourish while usefulness and pride take root in this group of young people!

C-Vert is pronounced “c’est vert” and means “it’s green!” Since 2005, the C-Vert program in Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve has tackled the challenge of providing an experience with an environmental focus in the neighbourhoods. Offered by the YMCA, the Port of Montreal supports this program as part of its community investment policy.

Rallying

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The target public? “Young people aged 14 to 16,” said Marie-Eve Paquin, Coordinator of the C-Vert program. “This is an age group that is often more difficult to engage, with fewer extracurricular and summer activities available to them.”

It all starts with recruitment. To put together each year’s cohort, the C-Vert team makes the rounds of neighbourhood high schools, targeting Secondary 3 and 4. “We’re not looking for those who are already involved in student councils or environmental committees,” said Marie-Eve. “Most of them will be getting involved in something for the first time. We know in advance that if they take the opportunity, they won’t regret it, and they’ll experience things that will transform them.” Completely free of charge, the program attracts young people from all walks of life, creating a true “diversity of profile, culture and socio-economic status.”

A year-long commitment

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After the group has been formed, it meets once a week with the facilitator. Over the course of a full year, the youth will see their projects through from genesis to growth to hatching, all the way to the difference they make!

“In the fall, we explore issues, raise awareness about the environment and, most of all, we create bonds between them,” said Marie-Eve. Next, the youth choose the subjects they want to study more in depth in the field of the environment. These include air or water quality, community kitchens, gardening, clean-up chores, planting, promoting active transportation, and collective art projects such as murals.

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Afterwards, C-Vert offers them workshops, then puts them in contact with experts to train them, community actors and local organizations working in the environment. The young people choose from all the partners they meet and start planning their project, with guidance from C-Vert’s staff. Every year, four or five projects emerge this way and are carried out during the summer for a month after school.

For these budding citizens, it’s more than a camp, it’s their first experience of engagement. “We give them the confidence and tools to carry out projects that change the world!”

A sustainable bond

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Beyond this year of commitment, the C-Vert program also has a lasting purpose: to recreate a lost link with nature for young city dwellers who don’t have much opportunity to leave the city. “Young people who lack contact with nature will not be able to develop the spirit of wanting to protect it,” said Marie-Eve. In addition to community projects, the camp offers outings and weekends in nature outside of Montreal. “And for many of them, it’s their first time...”

In its fifteen years of operation, the program has given rise to a whole network of new recruits, together with former participants involved in the C-Vert+ program on a daily basis, who become mentors or even speakers. “There’ s a real community of young people being created over time. It’s amazing to see how much this program changes lives!”