By Michael Boriero – Local Journalism Initiative
Students in Parkview Elementary School’s 6th grade cohort have been keeping their hands busy with woodworking and sewing this year, as part of a new entrepreneurial initiative created in collaboration with the Lac Brome Men’s Shed.
According to Jacqueline Quesnelle, a Grade 6 teacher at Parkview, there are about 35 students participating in the hands-on project. She told The Record that students split into small non-profit business groups and they will eventually sell their products sometime in early June.
“It’s mostly woodworking and sewing and basically just developing those entrepreneurial skills, so coming up with an idea, carrying it through, learning and not being intimidated by something new and persevering and at the end, contributing to our community,” she said.
There’s going to be a large weekend fundraiser at Le Relais Restaurant Bistro in Knowlton, she explained, where students will sell birdhouses and toys that they’ve built and painted with their own hands. The proceeds will go to the Lac Brome Food Bank and SOS Dépannage in Granby.
“It has just been really impressive to see the kids working […] and seeing how motivated they are to persevere because it hasn’t been easy building these birdhouses from scratch and coming up with a plan, but they don’t give up,” Quesnelle said in a phone interview.
The project has snowballed since its inception earlier in the year, she continued, adding that it originally started as a sewing supplement in her class. Quesnelle was overwhelmed by the support from the community, receiving donations of sewing machines and fabric.
And the students latched on to the initiative, as well. Quesnelle said she would often find students sewing during recess and lunch. She figured if this was going so well, then why not introduce a woodworking component. And that’s when she started searching for tools.
The shift over to woodworking led her directly to Danny Williams, founder of the Men’s Shed chapter in Lac Brome. Williams had a surplus of tools that he was willing to loan to the school. He also donated several birdhouses that he had already built himself to her classroom.
“They got a hold of me and I started talking to Jackie and I suggested to her that they take all of the tools and we’ll set up a retail outlet and what we’ll do is we’ll sell all of the stuff the kids have made to the tourists,” Williams said, sharing the tools were hardly being used at all.
The pandemic put a halt to most of the chapter’s fundraising activities. Men’s Shed is an international association that promotes the well-being of elderly or retired men. There are over 2,000 chapters in the world, Williams explained, he started this one two years ago.
“Men over the age of 70 have the highest suicide rate in the world over any other group, bar none, and so that’s why the Men’s Shed organization was started, just to give older men something to do, give them partnership, support, stuff like that,” he said.
According to Williams, his chapter, which consisted of roughly 20 elderly men pre-pandemic, takes part in a lot of volunteer work in the Brome Lake area, especially with the local food bank. They also run workshops, invite guest speakers, and hold cooking classes.
However, he hasn’t been able to gather all of the chapter’s members out of fear of COVID-19. So when Parkview Elementary came calling for tools, Williams jumped at the opportunity to impart some wisdom and share material from the Men’s Shed workshop in his garage.
“It not only teaches kids basic carpentry, but it teaches them entrepreneurship, how to run a small business, and how to establish a small business,” said Williams, adding that while the tools came from him, Home Hardware in Waterloo graciously donated safety equipment.
It has evolved into a community endeavour, Quesnelle reflected, noting that the wood used for the project came from Camlen’s Furniture Store in Knowlton. Now she’s just anxious to see the outcome of the sale, as she waits for the Grade 1 and 2 classes to paint the wood creations.
“My biggest thing is I’m so excited to actually see when the sale is done and see their reaction when we donate this to the SOS Dépannage and the food bank to kind of see that they’ve actually made a huge impact with just what we’ve been doing in class,” said Quesnelle.