Maison des Jeunes – Francesca Baron

by Susan Fisch  (October 2019)

Maison des Jeunes (MDJ) is a non-profit organization, where young people aged 12 to 17 can create a safe space to gather, to learn to take charge of their lives, gather tools, and learn to be productive, involved members of their community. A member of staff is available to listen and help work out any problems the kids may have.

Our Hemmingford chapter is located in the basement of the Municipal Building. It is run by an extraordinary woman named Francesca Baron, who has dedicated the past 15 years of her life to this worthwhile organization, giving our kids a secure and fun place to hang out. And the kids who started with her 15 years ago, are now young adults, bringing their own kids.

In 2004, Francesca was asked by Maurice Giroux, the town inspector at the time, if she would consider opening a chapter in Hemmingford. She remembered how great it would have been for her daughter, when she was that age, to have a place to go with her friends, and decided to go for it.

She started with 25 – 30 kids and now has about 150 kids registered. This past year they received 62 new registrations and had a record attendance of 1,700 kids throughout the year, coming in from Sherrington and Havelock and elsewhere. During summer months, the kids at the campgrounds also drop in.

To get started, Fran received a start-up grant from Programme de Soutien aux Organismes Communautaires (PSOC). She also received private donations of paints for the walls, and some furniture. Through government grants, she was able to get a new fridge. And with donations of cash, she bought computers, a pool table and a big screen tv.

One day while eating her supper, some kids stared at her food. They didn’t have enough at home and were hungry. And, the Community Kitchen and the Community Garden were born. With the help of Maude St-Hilaire and CLD Napierville, the SAB, the two schools and the Environmental Committee, the Garden is going strong. Using the harvest from the Garden, and donations of meat from Boucherie Viau, and other foods from McKeough’s, and now Tradition, Francesca cooked up big pots of soup, or spaghetti. Whichever kids helped with preparation would receive Tupperware containers to fill up and put in the freezer. When they got off the bus after school at MDJ, they had a meal. For some kids it was the only meal they received that day.

About three years ago, Fran heard about the closing of MDJ Napierville. With her track record and Stéphane Billette’s help, she was offered Napierville as a point-of-service of Hemmingford, with Fran overseeing the operation. She has been organizing activities there for the past two years, and has finally been approved to open officially in Napierville. Albeit, her first priority is Hemmingford. This is where all her support is. Everyone is happy with what she is doing with the kids, providing them with a safe place to be, giving support and providing them with food for the soul as well as the body.

In 2016, with funding from the Municipalities, Francesca hired in Wendy Giroux to help with homework. She had been one of the MDJ kids and is planning to become a teacher. Grades have improved since she’s been there. Kids bring in their report cards and show their progress. With the opening of Napierville, Wendy will take on responsibilities of adjunct to Fran to help alleviate some of the administrative tasks.

Cinéma Hemmingford is a project of MDJ. You’ve probably heard of it. Grants helped to buy the equipment. During the summer months, MDJ offered movies to the community and in the fall and winter, the Library took over.

Fran’s pride and joy, their most recent acquisition, is a minivan, giving access to those kids who otherwise wouldn’t have transportation. Now they just call and are picked up.

If you’d like to know more, or have comments, Fran or Wendy will be happy to answer your inquiries: 450-247-0148.

Opening Schedule: Tuesday: 6–8; Wednesday: 1–9, Thursday: 6–10; Friday: 2–10; Saturday: 12–5.

We wish Fran, Wendy and the kids much success in such a worthwhile and important endeavor.