Hanes: Welcome Hall Mission takes help where it’s needed

The community-based nonprofit has opened a new youth center in North Montreal, its second outpost added to the district in recent years.

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With sleek sofas, a gleaming kitchen, and a big-screen TV, the loft-like space above Marché Bon Accueil on Henri-Bourassa Blvd. E. in Montreal North looks like it could be the offices of the city’s latest tech startup.


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But the comfortable, spacious excavations are actually a new youth center operated by Welcome Hall Mission, unveiled Monday.

Sam Watts, executive director of the community-based nonprofit, said the facility serves young people between the ages of 15 and 30. Whether they are homeless and trying to access housing, single mothers trying to feed their children or dropouts trying to complete their education, the Welcome Hall Mission offers an open door, a personalized approach and a welcoming new environment in which seek support.

“When a young person has difficulties, he ends up needing the social safety net under the social safety net,” Watts said. “The idea is to have a nice and warm place. Our spirit is excellence. We shouldn’t have a seedy place just because we’re helping people who are struggling. “


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It also shouldn’t help to be a distant prospect, more than an hour away on public transportation.

Welcome Hall Mission has made a concerted effort in recent years to bring its services to its clients in their communities. Although the organization dates back to 1892 and is based in St-Henr i, the staff realized that some of the people who depended on their food bank were traveling around town, so they opened a free grocery store in north of Montreal.

It also decided to move its at-risk youth programs from downtown Beaudry St. to the district.

“We made a very deliberate decision in 2018 to go where we think we are most needed,” Watts said. “The young population of Montreal North is growing and already represented 30 percent of the total population. The combination of newcomers, visible minorities and the level of poverty presents a real opportunity for us to serve. “


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With support from the Home Depot Foundation, the space above the self-service food bank for the youth center was renovated. Everything was scheduled to open in March 2020, but the pandemic delayed the launch of its full services by more than a year.

Christine Black, Mayor of North Montreal County, said the arrival of the Welcome Hall Mission is timely given that local residents are among those most affected by COVID-19, economically, socially and physically. But he said there are also long-term needs that the youth center can help address.

“What we want is for young people in Montreal North to have the same opportunities as young people elsewhere in Montreal and Quebec,” Black said.

Nancy Morriseau of the Mission's Welcome Hall shows the media a multipurpose room currently used to distribute clothing at a new community center located on the mission's North Montreal bank, Monday, November 15, 2021. .
Nancy Morriseau of the Mission’s Welcome Hall shows the media a multipurpose room currently used to distribute clothing at a new community center located on the mission’s North Montreal bank, Monday, November 15, 2021. . Photo by Allen McInnis /Montreal Gazette

Nancy Morisseau, one of Welcome Hall Mission’s intervention workers, said that for the past 20 months the organization has had to comply with public health regulations, so services at the new center were limited to the basics.


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“We opened the doors, but it was one person at a time,” he said. “We followed the protocols, washing our hands, putting on the mask. And we were making sure that we could at least meet the primary needs of our customers. “

Those who needed a roof over their head were helped to find housing. And the new moms were provided diapers, as well as cribs and strollers.

But Morisseau said he hopes to expand the schedule so that people can gather at the new center and make use of its spacious living room, quiet room for changing or nursing babies and self-service clothes closet.

Svetlana Chernienko, 44, is a mental health advocate, entrepreneur, mother of four, and ambassador.

When he was young, he relied on the services of Welcome Hall Mission when his family lost almost everything. They were in such dire straits that they had to walk from Nuns’ Island to St-Henri just to collect food. The youth services were a lifesaver for Chernienko. Having them close to home will be a great advantage for the youngsters of Montreal North.


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“It is difficult to study if you are hungry,” he said. “When you are a child and you have a child and you face all of that, it is very important to have a safe space. It means a lot to have a place like Welcome Hall Mission. It was a game changer for me. “

Watts said her organization strives to offer three things young people need to thrive: self-confidence, confidence in their communities, and confidence in the future.

“To the extent that we can help them get to the point where they have that confidence, they will be successful and we are committed to their success,” he said.

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