By Michael Boriero – Local Journalists Initiative
Year 6 students at Parkview Elementary School have gotten into woodwork and sewing this year as part of a new entrepreneurial initiative created in partnership with the Lac Brome Men’s Shed.
About 35 students are participating in the hands-on project, according to Jacqueline Quesnelle, a sixth grade teacher at Parkview. She told The Record the students will split into small non-profit business groups and start selling their products sometime in early June.
“It’s mostly about woodwork and sewing and basically just developing those entrepreneurial skills, so coming up with an idea, executing it, learning and not being intimidated by something new and persevering and at the end to our community to contribute,” she said.
There will be a big weekend fundraiser at Le Relais Restaurant Bistro in Knowlton, she explained, where the students will sell birdhouses and toys they have made and painted with their own hands. Proceeds go to the Lac Brome Food Bank and SOS Dépannage in Granby.
“It was just very impressive to see the children work […] and to see how motivated they are to persevere because it wasn’t easy to build these birdhouses from scratch and come up with a plan, but they don’t give up,” Quesnelle said in a phone interview.
The project has snowballed since its inception earlier this year, she continued, adding that it originally started as a sewing supplement in her class. Overwhelmed by the community support, Quesnelle received donations of sewing machines and fabric.
And the students also joined the initiative. Quesnelle said she would often find students sewing during breaks and lunch. She figured if this was going so well why not introduce a woodworking component. And that’s when she started looking for tools.
The switch to woodworking led her straight to Danny Williams, founder of the Men’s Shed chapter at Lac Brome. Williams had a surplus of tools he was willing to loan the school. He also donated several birdhouses, which he had already built himself, for her classroom.
“They caught me and I started talking to Jackie and I suggested to her that they take all the tools and we’re going to set up a retail store and sell all the stuff the kids did the tourists do,” Williams said, sharing the tools that have hardly been used.
The pandemic has halted most of the chapter’s fundraising activities. Men’s Shed is an international association dedicated to the welfare of older or retired men. There are over 2,000 chapters in the world, Williams explained, which he founded two years ago.
“Men over 70 have the highest suicide rate in the world to any other group apart from none and that’s why the Men’s Shed organization was created just to give older men something to do, to give them partnership, support and stuff like that,” said he.
According to Williams, his chapter, which before the pandemic consisted of about 20 older men, is involved in a lot of volunteer work in the Brome Lake area, particularly at the local food bank. They also host workshops, invite guest speakers and host cooking classes.
However, he was unable to gather all members of the chapter for fear of COVID-19. When Parkview Elementary called for tools, Williams took the opportunity to impart some wisdom and share material from the Men’s Shed workshop in his garage.
“Not only does it teach kids basic carpentry skills, but it also teaches them entrepreneurship, how to run a small business and how to start a small business,” Williams said, adding that while the tools came from him, Home Hardware in Waterloo has graciously donated safety equipment.
It’s turned into a community project, Quesnelle mused, noting that the wood used for the project came from Camlen’s Furniture Store in Knowlton. Now she’s just excited to see the outcome of the sale as she waits for Classes 1 and 2 to paint the wooden creations.
“My biggest thing is that I’m so excited to see when the sale is complete and to see their reaction as we donate this to SOS Dépannage and the Tafel to see that they are actually doing exactly what they made a big impact, that’s what we did in class,” Quesnelle said.