Richard Vachon of Jeunesse Unie—26 years of service and counting

Jeunesse Unie has been giving to the community—giving of their time—for the last 30 years and counting, and Richard Vachon has certainly been working overtime, dedicated to helping the young in Park Extension for a whopping 26 of those long years

Standing with one of his co-workers, Mariana Cavliuc (who works in admin) near some computers in the basement where so many kids come to work on their homework, with the guided help of Jeunesse Unie staff

Walking into the Jeunesse Unie building on Bloomfield I was reminded of those that worked to educate me when I was young and in school—those that went that extra mile to give of themselves and way beyond any job description they may have had. I could smell the raw materials for artwork that the kids that spend their time there do oh-so-well, the food having been cooked in their kitchens and in the atmosphere I could feel the essence that rose from those that work there and the walls themselves, the walls that spoke of a safe haven for those who have no place else to go and in such crazy times when the world outside seems to be falling apart.

And where is that safe haven? Right here, in Park Extension, of course.

The good people at Jeunesse Unie are those types of people as described, and meeting with Richard Vachon, a veteran in the business for over 26 years, I was reminded that there are certainly those that care way beyond any expectations.

I was told of Richard Vachon (general director at the center) by a reader (and former employee of Jeunesse Unie, Matthieu Charest—an equally dedicated individual), who approached me after reading the piece we published here at Park Extension News about the drop-out rates in the community and he told me of the great work that Richard Vachon was doing, working hard to combat those numbers and keep kids in school, to graduate, but most importantly, as Richard puts it … to realize their dreams.

The premises on Bloomfield

Here, a lot of what is offered at the center, in terms of hobbies, can be seen—pool tables, billiards and tons of other stuff, where the kids can spend some quality and wholesome time

“It’s more like their kitchen and their living room,” Richard Vachon said of the building on Bloomfield, right at the heart of the Park Extension community. Kids who have no place to go after school, go there to get much-needed help with their homework, they get help cooking meals, and they get to hang out in a wholesome place, watching TV, playing games (pool, billiards, etc), and even art is huge at Jeunesse Unie, the artwork hanging high on the walls on the upper floor of the building, the aforementioned haven for children from the neighborhood.

“Take a look at our newest acquisition,” Richard said as he pointed out a popcorn machine that looked like it would be quite at home in some old theater from the seventies … a relic for sure, but one that makes the kids happy.

He also showed me the tiniest washing machine I’d ever seen. They use it to wash masks that they hand out to the kids, offering clean masks as opposed to the masks they walk in with. The place is equipped with enough sanitizer to wipe out any number of germs and there are even Plexiglas dividers set up on numerous tables and on both floors. Richard is also working closely with an engineer on a ventilation system to get the air circulating in there. I actually saw the fans and the panels they will be putting in place to circulate the air throughout the building. There are furthermore, a plethora of computers and two kitchens—one upstairs and one downstairs.

An incident that changed everything

It should be understood that these children often don’t have any place else to go. Either their homes are way too full or they can’t get the attention they deserve, or perhaps, even, the lives they have been dealt are so full of bad influence or they have those around them that show that the overall goal is not the child’s future at all. At Jeunesse Unie / Fondation Reves D’avenir, that is the only concern—the child’s future. That isn’t always easy however, and it hasn’t been easy over the years; especially when the outside world is so ready to influence a child in a bad way, as is the case very often, we’re afraid.

It was perhaps a terrible occurrence in Richard Vachon’s mind, but one that would change the scope and overall direction of the place at which he had already given so much time, but a fight did break out on the premises quite a few years back and it was Richard that had to clean up the blood with his own hands, and it was as he did that that he made a resolution to address the fact that the zone would be violence-free and he set to that mission with a resolve like no other.

The séance rituals

Don’t let the word fool you. They aren’t sitting around a cauldron and trying to conjure up spirits. The ritual séances were designed to superimpose the directives, or rather the scope of Richard’s and the center’s vision: no violence at all costs and the realization of dreams being the overall goal.

They don’t punish bad behavior. Richard feels that punishments won’t go very far in illuminating a child who has either gone astray or has issues with keeping the tormented child within at bay. Instead, he approaches all the children with compassion and understanding, a compassion that oozes off of him like radon.

City councilor Mary Deros was also present for one of the séances, Richard says proudly. This was a few years back.

The realization of dreams

Some of the artwork done by the kids at the center stands proud on the walls on the upper floor

It is with pride that Richard spoke of one of his workers with me when I visited with him Monday morning. “Yasin used to come up to that window,” he said pointing, “wanting to come in so badly. He eventually did come in and he benefited from what we’re doing here.” He not only benefited, but now he too is giving back, paying it forward and doing the same work that turned his very own life around.

The place has 6-7 full-time employees and about 20 part-timers to split up the work, which has gotten considerably harder since the dawn of Covid-19, but it is getting done, rest assured.

And the “Tableau D’Honneur” stands atop a wall, like so many other inspirational posters and artwork as testimony to the work being done there. The children’s dreams in the end seem to be the focal point, as I said, and in the end, what is greater than the dream of a child? The one thing that if preserved over time and the tumultuous dawn of adulthood, is the most beautiful thing to behold on this earth, and if realized, that beauty can only be left to bloom into a future where dreams are not only present, but possible to attain.

Richard and Jeunesse Unie have made these dreams possible and the site should be beacon to one and all.