Colonie Sainte-Jeanne d’Arc: vacays her way
With a mission to offer girls a quality summer camp in the Contrecoeur region, Colonie Sainte-Jeanne d’Arc is a non-profit organization supported since 2015 by the MPA as part of its community engagement policy.
Celebrating its 95th anniversary this year, the Colonie welcomes its all-girl clientele in large wooden buildings on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, surrounded by places to do activities ranging from obstacle courses, archery and kayaking to swimming, mini golf and paddle boarding. There is also a community thrift shop and a great site for camp fires.
All socio-economic backgrounds
Its core philosophy is to welcome participants from all socio-economic backgrounds by using an income-based fee structure. “All girls can attend the camp, regardless of their situation,” said Jessica Charland, the Colonie’s director. “These are girls whose parents don’t necessarily have the means to enroll them in extracurricular activities, take vacations and travel.”
About 40% of participants are also referred by local organizations, such as local community service centres (CLSCs) and child welfare centres, or by social workers. In this instance, they may be girls with behavioural issues, seeking a break from a family situation that can be tense for the young people and their parents alike. “It’s sometimes the only chance they get all year to spend some time away from the family context.” The team is backed by three special-education workers, who support the group leaders in skills development, supervision and activity management. “To encourage integration, we choose to create small groups, each with a ratio of two adults per 12 young people, to take good care of them.”
Experience the camp as a success
Faced with this sometimes fragile clientele, “everything is done to ensure that they experience the camp as a success,” said Jessica. “Some of the girls are failing in several areas of their lives, so we do everything we can to make things work here. For them, the Colonie represents a stable, safe space they can return to every summer. “It’s the place where they feel most at home.”
The key ingredient is passion, something Jessica has in abundance! A former camper herself as a child, Jessica returned in her teens to become a counselor. Over the years, she has held a variety of positions, including counselor, coordinator, leader, and then director of operations. Since 2019, she has provided overall leadership as the camp director. “I’ve done every job except maintenance worker!” she told us with a laugh.
Why did you choose an all-girl formula? Created nearly a century ago, the camp’s initial mission was to “protect the children of the City of Montreal, and particularly the female children of poor families, from all kinds of dangers to which they were exposed during summer vacations.” Since then, of course, this objective has changed… yet the all-girl formula has stayed the same. “Many of them feel freer in this context. They feel they can be themselves, express themselves, try things they wouldn’t have tried in a mixed context. They let themselves make mistakes and put less pressure on themselves to succeed at everything.”
A variety of activities
The activities offered include both an outdoor profile - focusing on a variety of sporting activities - and a creative profile, with artistic activities such as dance and visual arts.
The formula has proved to be appealing. “Every year, on the last day of camp, some of the girls are in tears... Many return a few times during the summer, and most come back year after year.”
However, to maintain its quality of service, the team has to deal with its share of challenges, starting with funding. “Since we cater to an underprivileged clientele, we can’t pass the bill on to our customers. But we want to keep providing a quality camp.”
A helpful expertise
This year, along with its usual financial support, the MPA pitched in to design and deliver a different form of donation.
The organization had a project to spruce up and refurbish its outdoor spaces, and wanted to add benches around the fire pit. “That’s pivotal place for a summer camp!” said Jessica Charland, the organization’s director, “and until recently, it only had uncomfortable logs for seating.”
Leveraging its in-house expertise, the MPA offered to contribute to both projects by constructing four flower boxes to beautify the camp entrance and six magnificent wooden benches to be installed around the fire pit.
The project, handled by the Infrastructure Management building maintenance team and the project management office, ranged from drafting the plans and choosing the right style and materials, to constructing the planters and benches and even delivering them! They were designed and produced by Nicolas Beauchemin and Sylvain Bouchard, mechanical maintenance and building technicians, coordinated by Sylvain Nadeau, civil works team leader, and delivered by Nicolas Beauchemin and Marc-Olivier Lavoie, specialized operator.
Verdict: “There’s no way we could have bought something this beautiful in a store,” said Jessica Charland. “They chose cedar, because it doesn’t rot, and they thought through the design so that water would drip off and everything would last the test of time. The planters will be there for many years to come.” Next step: the choice of colourful flowers to grace them and create a wow effect as soon as you arrive at the camp.
As for the benches, they are now perfectly placed with views of the river and magnificent sunsets, ready to welcome groups of happy young people enjoying marshmallows, songs and a campfire.
This initiative also shows the MPA’s commitment to supporting the development of the Contrecoeur project’s host community, especially through its community organizations.