Head and Hands – A group serving the community

I met Andrea Clarke, the director of this bilingual organization (the French name is À Deux Mains) at their offices on Sherbrooke Street, while they were waiting to occupy their new location on Benny Street in NDG, which was awarded to them by the city of Montreal. They are scheduled to move to the old library this fall. This will allow them to coordinate a number of activities in a single location. The agreement with the city provides that the building is transferred to them free of charge, but they will be responsible for carrying out the renovations and maintenance. This is a new support model that the city is experimenting with. If successful, it could result in more.

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Therefore, the organization will be able to provide more than the current services (medical, legal, social) to its target clientele aged 12 to 25. They plan on having food banks, a drop-off point for street workers and the administration, and the Young Parents Program supported by the FDG. This convergence is welcomed because it will better support parents who are currently meeting in another location that is far from the “mother house”. These young parents, usually between the ages of 16 and 25, some of whom are single parents, appreciate these opportunities to connect with other parents where they can discuss their problems guided by dedicated facilitators in a holistic and inclusive approach. Here, we focus on the whole person by creating an environment that is conducive to sharing, organizing group meals for families on meeting days. We use preparation time to survey the clientele on topics of interest to them and to acknowledge the needs expressed while the children are grouped with an educator. Stress management is a topic that is often repeated these days. We organize discussions and workshops around this theme. We also reverse the problem and propose an optimistic view of the issues encountered. These teaching methods will also have an impact on the children who will be approached differently by parents afterwards, encouraging them to see the glass half full rather than half empty. A great deal of effort is made to include fathers, to break the isolation of these families who are often more vulnerable when left to their own devices.

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In all of the programs, the coordinators are supported by visiting street workers. They facilitate follow up outside activity hours on all aspects for which the organization provides support. To increase communication, the parent group (private) has created a Facebook page on which they communicate, share photos of their families and their activities. The organization realized that it needed to follow the migration of its clientele to the web and has put a lot of effort into following this trend to better serve them.

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In addition to the Young Parents Program, Head and Hands has taken over a program managed by the City of Montreal, Jeunesse 2000, for youth between the ages of 12 and 17, with music, sports and cooking activities. Somewhat like a youth centre, there is a meeting place where young people are at the heart of activities. The location is casual, which attracts young people. Music has been very prominent recently so we developed the technical support necessary for this form of expression by young people. They will put on two shows during the year and for most of them, it will be the first time they are paid for their performances, in addition to having their talent recognized by their friends and family. Jeunesse 2000 also has access to a gymnasium for playing basketball. More structured games allow us to establish relationships for addressing more sensitive subjects. On Tuesday nights, the young people prepare a meal together. After supper, they watch a movie that provokes a discussion on the multiplicity of viewpoints in which concerns can be heard. We can then sometimes create doubts in certainties that result in more openness and tolerance.

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The organization also covers food safety in many of its programs. Legal, health and social services are also provided. In all of the programs and services, we try to minimize barriers to accessibility. People who do not have clear immigration status, undocumented migrants, people from the LGBT community and others are welcome. Médecins du Monde refer their clientele aged 12 to 25 years for general medicine or screening tests. Even people who live outside of NDG are welcomed very openly.

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The board of directors is composed of 12 people (average age of 28), most of whom are students or young professionals who have recently graduated. Funding comes from the three levels of government, the United Way, private foundations and independent donations. Between 25 and 35 people work at Head and Hands dependent on the season, projects and programs in place. Approximately half of them work full time.

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The collective administration of this organization is not frequent and this should be emphasized. Activities and supervision are managed in teams. We are trying to work together to get the job done. Once a week, the team of nine coordinators and four people who provide services and work in administration meet to discuss the issues, find solutions, communicate and relay the available information. This management model promotes versatility and maintains good cohesion in the team. Staff turnover is not as high as can be observed elsewhere in the community. This approach generates interest among management students who have recently met (six teams of four), with experts to study practices and make recommendations to optimize how they do things. The Head and Hands team plans to incorporate several of the recommendations that have been made. As for the students, they have completed this exercise with great interest, discovering an atypical management style that is proving itself in this organization!

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In closing, Andrea pointed out the two main concerns of the workers, board of directors and herself. First, the vacuum created by the absence of sex education programs in schools. While they are striving to fill this gap for their clientele, many young people remain uneducated in this area and this perpetuates health and behavioural problems that could be avoided. Second, we anticipate the arrival of huge quantities of fentanyl in Montreal. Although street workers have been engaged in discussions with other community groups and people in the Direction de la santé publique (DSP), outreach strategies to address this issue have not been sufficiently developed and we are well aware of the horrific problems that opiates can cause.

She rightly points out that the individual choices made are often reflective of societal problems for which enough effort is not made to find solutions.