Hands-on learning programs encourage Laval youth to go back to school, enter skilled trades

Frédérick Charron says the program has taught him how to make furniture from scratch, as well as toys for kids, such as Jenga blocks and puzzle pieces. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC - image credit)
Frédérick Charron says the program has taught him how to make furniture from scratch, as well as toys for kids, such as Jenga blocks and puzzle pieces. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC - image credit)

Though he may not be wearing a red plaid shirt and a beanie or carrying an axe on his shoulder, Frédérick Charron says he feels "like a true lumberjack" when he works with wood.

"It's really amazing right here … I learn how to [use] machines, how does it work," said the 19-year-old.

Charron is enrolled in a six-month cabinetmaking program with La Ferme Jeunes au Travail (Youth at Work Farm) — a Laval organization that aims to help motivate people between the ages of 16 to 35 to continue their studies by learning new skills they can later bring with them into the workforce.

Participants are able to explore three fields of work: organic agriculture, cabinetmaking and commercial cooking.

Charron says learning how to cut, sand and polish wood has allowed him to make furniture from scratch, as well as toys for kids, such as Jenga blocks and puzzle pieces.

"It's really impressive," he said.

Kwabena Oduro/CBC
Kwabena Oduro/CBC

Rebecca Acosta is an alumni of the cabinetmaking program and, since May, the head of the carpentry department at the organization.

She's now helping students like Charron refine their woodworking skills and discover their passions.

"The first goal is for them to define who they are and what they like in life and if carpentry is something that helps them, that's just the way I can help them to find themselves," said the 26-year-old.

This year, everything produced by the programs' participants — including vegetables, quiches, kitchen tools and other wooden toys and trinkets — was on sale at the farm's annual Christmas market. Some items are still available online.

"It's satisfying to see that your job is appreciated by other [people] than you," said Acosta.

Kwabena Oduro/CBC
Kwabena Oduro/CBC

Laval Mayor Stéphane Boyer says the program is "a great way to support local crafts, the social economy and the next generation."

It also supports the environment, using only recycled wood for its objects and furniture.

When ash trees in the area are diagnosed with disease, the city of Laval cuts them down, treats them and then donates them to the organization — where the cabinetmaking apprentices can work their magic.

"We're giving that wood a second life," said Acosta — a life that can be anything she wants.

"I just get excited [about] the fact that with something as simple as a piece of wood, I could create furniture, a toy for a kid or just a story for someone."