Community-building in Park Extension

Credit: Benjamin Seropian

In 5 seconds

UdeM and its partners inaugurate the new premises of L'extension, a teaching and healthcare centre in one of the city's more multiethnic and underprivileged neighbourhoods.

"This is a story of solidarity involving the families of Park Extension, neighbourhood schools, professors and students of Université de Montréal, and more than 350 generous donors and a great philanthropic partner, the Marcelle and Jean Coutu Foundation."

That's how Université de Montréal rector Guy Breton opened his remarks at the Jan. 22 inauguration of the brand-new premises of L'extension, a centre whose goal is to support the development of the neighbourhood's underprivileged families by offering their children free educational services and health care.

L'extension was an idea that first germinated in the mind of UdeM Faculty of Education mathematics professor Louise Poirier, whose vision, perseverance and leadership made it possible to create the first incarnation of the centre in 2014.

"My dream at the time was to establish a centre in a disadvantaged and multi-ethnic environment, because parents in these neighbourhoods cannot afford to pay for remedial teaching services in private clinics, while schools and school boards are not always able to offer such services to students with special needs," Poirier recalled. "At the same time, the number of exceptional students is increasing."

An interdisciplinary team

Located in Park Ex, as it's known, the centre brings together an interdisciplinary team in orthopedagogy, optometry and dentistry made up of student interns and supervising professors from UdeM. To situate it close to the needy children and their families, the Commission scolaire de Montréal at first loaned two small unused kindergarten classrooms at Barclay School while it raised funds to find a permanent location in the neighbourhood.

Currently, hundreds of children from Barclay and Barthélémy-Vimont Elementary Schools are benefiting from the services of L'extension, and this number will be able to increase thanks to the newly constructed facility.

"In its early days, L'extension offered remedial assistance to students who were having difficulties at school," said Poirier. "Then the Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry and the Director of the School of Optometry got wind of the project and decided they wanted to contribute, too. It then took on a new dimension: dental care services (prevention, examinations and treatments) and eye care services (screening exams and corrective lenses) were added, all at no cost to these families, who are among the least well-off in Montreal. The centre has gradually taken its place in the lives of Park Extension families, who now greatly appreciate its presence in the neighbourhood."

More than 350 donations

The first gift of financial aid that Poirier received to set up the centre of her dreams came from a taxi driver. Riding from one appointment to the next, Poirier got an enthusiastic earful from the driver, who also offered a number of ideas of his own.

More than 350 donations followed, including a $2 million gift from the Marcelle and Jean Coutu Foundation to finance the creation of the new, modern and well-lit premises and thus ensure the centre's sustainability.

The organization's outreach team has moved into its new offices and intends to provide services to a broader clientele, including high-school students and preschoolers.

As well, there's a plan to gradually bring in trainees from other disciplines taught at UdeM: audiology, speech therapy, nutrition, occupational therapy, nursing, psychology and neuropsychology, social work, psychoeducation, public health and music.

All in all, a very ambitious program for a dedicated and passionate team.

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