Thinking Outside of the Box with Hommes & Gars

Are you familiar with Hommes & Gars? This community organization has been firmly rooted in the Magdalen Islands since 2013 and is committed to men’s health and well-being on a number of fronts. It’s safe to say: it’s clearly an agent of positive change in the community. How does the organization help men? We talked to Serge Richard, Coordinator, and Pierre-Luc Richard, Awareness and Communications Officer, at Hommes & Gars.

Cultivating Well-Being All the Time

“We’ve realized that we need to think outside the box. I think we stand out from other men’s organizations in Quebec. Sometimes, when I talk about it in groups to which Hommes & Gars belongs, people say to me, “You’re a méchante bibitte,” explained Serge.

That’s because for the organization, supporting men to promote their well-being and helping them take care of their health comes in many diverse ways. “Hommes & Gars isn’t just a place where men come when they’re having difficulties. The helping relationship remains the organization’s priority, but we also try to reach men more broadly. We want to create a living environment with our organization: a place where men can come and see us, whether things are going well or not,” added Serge.

The Services We Offer

How does Hommes & Gars do it? What services does it offer Magdalen men?

Individual Support

First and foremost, the organization offers free, confidential help, and support. It offers one-to-one meetings. Its highly qualified and specially trained counsellors welcome men without judgment, in a spirit of listening and empathy.

“It’s really the first step. Men come for help with issues of domestic violence, both experienced and endured. There’s also everything to do with health and well-being: separation, questioning, grief, anxiety, managing emotions, fatherhood, social relations, etc.” explained Pierre-Luc.

Group Activities

“The 2nd component is group activities, where we tackle different subjects to get people to meet, socialize, and develop other skills at the same time,” continued Pierre-Luc.

“Opening groups starts from a grassroots need. It’s very important for us to listen to people. For example, we have coffee get-togethers, and that really started from a need. Men used to say to us: I want to share lots of things, but I don’t really have anyone in my circle of friends with whom I can have serious discussions. That’s why we decided to open groups,” added Serge.

Reaching out to men through a variety of group activities is also a way of taking preventive action. Cultural activities such as conferences and plays, for example, are a way of addressing male realities and “getting messages across, sparking discussion and reflection,” explained Pierre-Luc. He gave the example of the presentation of a comedy show by Marc Messier, which provided an opportunity to discuss the management of emotions and ego.

Other activities, more focused on overall health, such as community kitchens, promote healthy lifestyle habits. All this, to equip men and nurture their well-being.

Awareness and Education Workshops

And there’s more because Hommes & Gars undertakes many other initiatives. “The 3rd component is more about awareness-raising and popular education. We try to be present as much as possible and create links with other organizations in the area,” replied Pierre-Luc.

“We conduct workshops in schools, particularly on healthy, egalitarian love relationships. In some cases, workshops can be given in organizations. We have a workshop, for example, on sexual harassment in the workplace. These workshops are given in collaboration with other organizations in the community. We also have a workshop on how to encourage men to ask for help when they need it,” he continued.

Serge also told us about a project in partnership with the Secrétariat à la condition féminine, which has just been formalized. “We want to run workshops on sexual harassment in sport among young people. We hear a lot, for example, about what’s going on at Hockey Canada. We want to take the players from an early age to raise awareness, talk about harassment, sexual harassment, consent. We’re going to set up workshops to raise awareness among youngsters, parents, and coaches alike,” he said. It’s another example of the organization’s commitment to promoting positive, healthy behaviours among boys.

And that’s not all. In fact, the organization’s awareness-raising activities also involve communications. “We try to get the word out about our services and talk about health and well-being. We have radio spots, and a Facebook page ,“ replied Pierre-Luc.

Tips for Taking Care of Yourself

With all these services available, it’s clear just how much Hommes & Gars is working to promote men’s well-being. So, we asked Serge and Pierre-Luc if they had a few simple, easily accessible tips to share with us. “On our site, we have self-assessment tools on our love relationships, which help to evaluate, for example: do I have a bad temper? Am I jealous? We do this on our own, and it helps us put things into perspective. Sometimes, when we’re going through more difficult episodes, it’s good to stop and take stock of the situation, then take the time to look at the resources available to us,” explained Pierre-Luc.

Hommes & Gars also offers a variety of tools and tips to help us focus on our health and well-being in its newsletter, another of its awareness-raising initiatives. “There are lots of tips, lots of information. We look for partners to provide us with a wide range of tips. For example, we’ve teamed up with a family doctor who gives us articles to inform people about the importance of taking care of their physical health. We also collaborate with the Gaspé Peninsula – Magdalen Islands Community Justice Center (GPMICJC) on all kinds of subjects that can be sources of stress: fathers’ rights, protection mandates, housing law, etc.,” added the awareness and communications agent.

Interested? Serge and Pierre-Luc invite you to become a member of Hommes & Gars, free of charge, by filling out this form. By becoming a member, you’ll receive this newsletter, as well as invitations to the organization’s activities.

Knocking on the Door of Hommes & Gars

“Our health, our well-being: it’s not just about taking care of them when things aren’t going well. It’s about cultivating them, having the tools in case things don’t go well, knowing what the resources are. We want people to have the tools to take preventive action. We want men to know that the day they run into difficulties and need help, they’ll feel comfortable coming to us,” explained Pierre-Luc, outlining the wide range of actions taken by Hommes & Gars to complement its help and support service.

And the help is there. Even if it’s still difficult for many men to ask for help, more men are daring to do so. “We’re talking about it more and more, but I think we need to keep talking about it more and more. Men are capable of change,” added Serge.

To learn more about Hommes & Gars, visit its website.

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Lull in the Storm: An Anchor for Better Health

Some of us experience moments when everything goes sideways, when we are feeling helpless, in a state of crisis. And at such times, it is important to seek help, for example, in one of the region’s mental health shelters, like Centre Accalmie. “The understanding, the interest shown in me, the active listening: my stay was a great help. My counsellor was like a spark for me,” explains Louis, who found help from this organization when he was going through a depression episode. How does Centre Accalmie help people? We discussed this with Dominique Bouchard, General Manager of Centre Accalmie and President of the Regroupement des organismes communautaires et alternatifs en santé mentale de la Gaspésie-Îles-de-Madeleine (ROCASM-GÎM).

What is the Centre Accalmie?

The name Accalmie immediately brings to mind a moment of peace, when light reappears, and solutions illuminate problems and difficulties. And that’s exactly what Centre Accalmie aims to offer: an emergency shelter for people in difficulty. It is located in Pointe-à-la-Croix, “in a calm, restful environment, on the riverbank, where you can relax and give yourself the resources you need to get better,” explained Dominique.

Centre Accalmie receives people living with “mental health problems, addictions, difficult family situations, people who have been through the justice system, who are homeless, or who are experiencing severe and serious disorders,” mentioned the General Manager.

The house accommodates 8 beds and benefits from a solid team of qualified professionals who offer support and coaching.

At Centre Accalmie, “we start from the person’s experience to offer them a space to explore what they’re going through and give them the tools to make things better. We use alternative practices and try to cover all the areas of a person’s life,” she explained.

Fill up your Toolbox

And if someone asks for help at Centre Accalmie, what can they expect? “The average stay is 15 days. Each person has a designated caseworker and will meet with him or her 4 to 5 times a week, unless there is a crisis, in which case it would be more often. The person seeking help must be 100% involved. We develop an action plan to help them determine what they are looking for at Centre Accalmie: what they want to work on or eliminate from their lives,” Dominique stated.

She explained that the centre offers a framework, a structure “for getting back into good living habits. You have discussions, walks, meetings with your caseworker and creative activities.”

For example, drawing and singing workshops are offered to our guests. “There are some for whom this really resonates with them. We try out different things like that to fill the toolbox of people who come to our shelters,” she said.

Centre Accalmie also offers life within a group. “I often hear laughter in the house. The group discussions and activities mean that people will help each other. It is also part of the process to exchange with others, to get to know something new. Sometimes, it is through contact with others that people say to themselves: Okay, I will roll up my sleeves, I too can make something of my life,” she added.

Help that Reaches Out to Men

At Centre Accalmie, 2 out of 3 people who come for help are men. Why is that? “I think men come here because they get fast, concrete service. They get shelter and we take real action to help them overcome their difficulties. We tell them the truth. We listen. We are in the real world. The men say to us, “It’s great because you welcome us without judgement, we feel welcome as we are,” replied the General Manager.

“I’ve had a lot of testimonials from people saying to me: if I hadn’t found the Centre Accalmie along the way, I wouldn’t be here today. It speaks volumes,” she confided.

“Asking for help takes a lot of courage. I often say: you had the courage to knock on our door, you should be proud of yourself. We are here to help you through this crisis,” she added.

Strategies for Taking Care of Yourself

Welcoming, understanding and committed, Dominique clearly takes people’s well-being to heart. So, we asked this specialist in the field of helping relationships for some simple, everyday tips on how to take care of ourselves and our mental health. The Centre Accalmie web site offers a few tools which, among other things, focus on leisure activities as a way of taking a break from everyday problems and feeling good. Taking free drawing classes, listening to pleasant music, or filling in a gratitude booklet are just a few examples.

Dominique also presents a tool that she leaves at people’s disposal at the Centre Accalmie. A small card (in French) that you can print out, cut out and leave in your wallet. The card says something important to remember: we are never alone. No matter where we are, there is someone available to listen to us in a caring, non-judgmental way. Free, confidential help is available at all times. Several helpful resources are presented on this card, including these.

And of course, if you feel that you are in a crisis and need to find guidance and support to get better, please contact the Centre Accalmie.

“If I ever feel the need to talk to someone I trust and who is a good listener, I make a promise to myself… I will call! Now I know that there is no shame in seeking help if my tools are not enough,” said Mathieu, who has used the Centre Accalmie services.

Help is available. There will always be a hand willing to reach out to you. Dare to take it.

To Learn More About ROCASM-GÎM

Center Accalmie is not alone. Other mental health organizations in the region offer the same kind of services, or complementary ones. They are members of the Regroupement des organismes communautaires et alternatifs en santé mentale de la Gaspésie-Îles-de-Madeleine (ROCASM-GÎM). Shelters and day centres are included among the member organizations: Centre Émilie Gamelin,  CRRI, Centre communautaire l’Éclaircie, La Maison à Damas, La Passerelle, Le Sentier de l’Espoir, Groupe d’action sociale et psychiatrique des monts (GASP) and, of course, Centre Accalmie. There is also the Droits et Recours Santé Mentale Gaspésie-Les-Îles and Nouveau regard, a regional organization for loved ones of people with mental health problems.

To learn more about ROCASM-GÎM, you can view the presentation videos on this page (in French).


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Helping Fathers and Valuing their Role

A father who stands with arms wide open before his son taking his first steps. An attentive father preparing breakfast for his daughter. “It’s little everyday gestures like these that show us the beauty of our work,” explained Mathieu Michaud, Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie Coordinator. Have you ever heard of Maison Oxygène? It opened in 2021 and is based in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, offering help to fathers in difficulty. What kind of services does it offer? How does it help dads? And what advice can be given to fathers who want to create more of a bond with their child? We caught up with Mathieu to find out.

What is Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie?

When you think of the name “Maison Oxygène,” you think it’s a place to catch your breath, put your feet up, and get back on track. And that’s exactly what it is. Because at Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie “we welcome dads with kindness and respect. We listen to their distress. We assess their needs. We support them in the things they want to work on, one by one,” explained Mathieu.

Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie “is a resource for father-child support and accommodation. Our mission is to consolidate, maintain, and preserve the ties between fathers and their children. We offer residential, outpatient, and related services. In all cases, a father admitted to Maison Oxygène must want to work on the fatherhood aspect of his life,” continued the specialized educator. How does it work?

Three Ways to Support Fathers

“For accommodation services, the name says it all. We offer a roof over their heads, so that fathers don’t lose touch with their children. It’s often during a separation that they come to us, or during an eviction. It gives them a place to receive their children. Because if the father ends up on a friend’s sofa, chances are they won’t be able to accommodate his children. At Maison Oxygène, we have a room for him and beds for his children. We have 9 beds. We offer all the amenities: dishes, fridges, etc. The dads do the cooking themselves, and are responsible for their children,” Mathieu continued.

“For external services, it’s varied. It has to do with fatherhood and dads’ rights. Often, dads come to us who really don’t know how to go about it, and don’t really understand the steps to take. We help them with all these issues: child support, family allowances, finding a job, etc. We point them in the right direction. We refer them to local organizations. We make personalized referrals and accompany them. We always go at the dad’s pace, based on his needs,” continued Mathieu.

“Otherwise, we have a number of related services. We work to promote the father’s role and his importance in his children’s lives. We get involved in organizing activities like the “Course des papas,” which took place last June, during the “Semaine québécoise de la valorisation de la paternité” in collaboration with other organizations in the social environment. This winter, we’ll also be launching play-based learning activities called “It’s Different with Dad,” which develop the father-child bond,” he added.

Rolling Up Their Sleeves

Mathieu explained that many fathers wait until they’ve reached the end of their rope before seeking help. Maison Oxygène’s counsellors help them “roll up their sleeves, regain their balance, and get on with their lives. Often, for these fathers, problems seem like a mountain, and insurmountable. We break them up into little bits. We work on it a little at a time, and then, at some point, we realize that the bulk of the job is done, that the problems are solved bit by bit,” he explained. The support he gives fathers to work on themselves and their fathering skills, he described as a tool: “I’m the hammer, dad’s the carpenter.”

Doesn’t everyone, at one time or another, need tools to get the job done? Then don’t hesitate to ask Maison Oxygène for help. That’s what Mathieu emphasized. “Asking for help for a man is often  difficult.” We try to teach dads to have the humility to ask for help. Our slogan is: Asking for help is courageous. We want to dispel the myth of the man who doesn’t need anyone. Big boys don’t cry: that’s not what we say.

At Maison Oxygène, “we’re seeing some great successes. Last year, we avoided placing two children in care because the fathers had worked on themselves,” pointed out the coordinator, who finds great satisfaction in seeing fathers progress and becoming involved in their children’s lives.

A Father is Important

And why does Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie emphasize the importance of the father-child bond? Because “the father-child bond is just as important as the mother-child bond. The child observes and learns from both mom and dad’s behaviors,” replied Mathieu.

Recent studies explain the benefits of fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives. They point to benefits in terms of cognitive skills (e.g., better school results), language skills (e.g., vocabulary development) and social-emotional skills (e.g., reduced anxiety).

As Mathieu has observed, fathers are getting more and more involved. “I’m proud of the Gaspesian dads”. Apparently, dads are all present in the latest cohorts of prenatal courses here in Haute-Gaspésie. We’re also seeing more dads with diaper bags, caring for their children. I think the more involved fathers are seen and valued in society, the more it will inspire other fathers to get involved,” he added.

How Can You Bond More Closely with Your Child?

Finally, we asked Mathieu to share his tips. As a father: how can we create a stronger bond with our child?

“It’s not rocket science. To develop a bond, you have to spend time with your children. Here’s a tip: hang up the phone, put it down and play with your kids. Learning through father-child play is a winner. Then there’s basic childcare: changing diapers, brushing hair, the bedtime routine: the lullaby, reading a little story. These are the little things that help you develop a bond. It’s also about being involved in your child’s life: going to school report card meetings, accompanying your children in their extracurricular activities: encouraging them at the arena if your child plays field hockey or figure skates. That’s another way of maintaining ties,” he explained. Fathers who are present and involved realize how important it is to forge bonds with their youngsters. Being a father is the greatest adventure of a lifetime. A unique experience. Enriching. Incomparable.

Fathers are role models for their children. Being there for your children, but also knowing how to ask for help when you need it: isn’t that the best way to play this role?

Need help or information? Contact Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie.

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A Place of Convergence for Change and Wellness

“Every time we help a man, we help his children and his partner. It’s positive for society as a whole,” stated Marie Hudon, Assistant Executive Director of Convergence – Service d’aide aux hommes de la Gaspésie, accompanied by Jean-Jacques Élie, the organization’s counselor and Executive Director. Since its foundation, Convergence has been committed to its mission of helping the male population of the Gaspé Peninsula. Men and teenagers aged 16 and over are welcome at this organization, where they are welcomed, their needs analyzed, and non-judgement is practiced. In 12 years, nearly 2,500 different men have found help from Convergence’s team of counsellors. What services do we offer? And what tips should we know to improve our relationships with our loved ones? We met Jean-Jacques and Marie to find out.

Where Does Convergence Come From?

“The name Convergence is intended to express a meeting place for men, a space for sharing and exploration with the aim of developing communication and assertiveness skills without violence,” as stated on the organization’s website. Why was it created? To meet the needs of men in the community, explained Jean-Jacques.

“Initially, when Convergence was created in 2011, its mandate was to intervene in domestic violence. Since we were the only organization specifically dedicated to men in Gaspésie, over the years we’ve also developed other services, particularly to help men in difficulty. These could be men who have gone through a break-up, for example,” explained Jean-Jacques, adding that a majority of participants come for help following a separation.

Other services have been added, including: “We realized that a good proportion of our participants were fathers, hence the idea, which came to us in 2015, of opening a Maison Oxygène to improve our services for fathers,” continued the General Director. Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie, which opened in 2021, offers accommodation to fathers in difficulty “to consolidate the father-child bond and enhance the father’s role,” explained Marie, who is also the home’s director.

Helping Men and Changing Society

Convergence helps men who are experiencing difficulties, fathers, as well as spouses with violent behavior, whether physical, verbal or otherwise. Why is it important to offer help to these men? “It’s essential. That’s how our society will evolve,” replied Jean-Jacques. For him, helping men who behave violently is part of the solution to the problem of domestic violence. This is also Marie’s view. “I believe in it deeply. Getting help can make a difference, even save lives,” she explained.

How does the Convergence teamwork with men who behave violently? “We totally adhere to the values and vision of the member organizations of the à cœur d’homme network, which obviously focus on stopping violent behavior. We work with the participant to deconstruct his denial, dispel his justifications, and begin the process of taking responsibility. Obviously, he has homework to do, using tools that will enable him to change his attitudes and behaviors. We help them to reflect on their preconceived ideas, often associated with gender stereotypes that are not conducive to establishing and maintaining egalitarian relationships. Because there’s also the whole notion of respect when we talk about equal relationships. We work a lot on that,” explained Jean-Jacques. At Convergence, we believe in people’s ability to change. We make the distinction between people and their behavior, while making them understand that they are responsible for their actions. We give them the tools to learn non-violent solutions and change their behavior in order to establish healthy family relationships.

Time Out: Improving Relationships

What kind of tools are offered to participants? Marie and Jean-Jacques talked about Time-Out. It’s presented to participants to help them avoid violent episodes, but it can also be useful for many people who want to improve their relationships with their loved ones.

During conflicts, do you sometimes say things that go beyond your thoughts? Do you sometimes make gestures that you later regret? Do you sometimes feel impulsive? “During heated exchanges, do you feel misunderstood, unheard, frustrated and angry? Are you going round in circles and about to explode? You can prevent these power surges by taking a look at your emotional map,” explained Jean-Jacques.

How does the Time-Out tool work? In short, the first step is to learn to recognize your own warning signals that tell you that you’re starting to feel negative emotions such as anger. You also need to pay attention to “your physical symptoms. Sometimes it can be palpitations, a tightness in the throat, hot flashes, sweating,” explained Marie. These physical signs are accompanied by psychological ones. You feel less and less able to act calmly, you feel frustration building up, and you feel you could explode. When we recognize our warning signals, for example during a conversation with our partner or a friend, we need to “change our tune.” But above all, we need to signal our intention,” explained Jean-Jacques. For example: “Listen Marie-Julie, I’m really not feeling well, I need to stop this discussion, please,” he continued.

What happens next? Stay out of the room or building for an hour and do some physical activity, such as walking, running, or breathing. “Above all, don’t take a motorized vehicle, and avoid using tools that could injure you. We keep in touch with ourselves,” says Marie. When you feel the tension easing, you calmly reflect on the situation. Then you can come back to the person to see if he or she agrees to resume the discussion. Talk about yourself in the first person. Listen carefully to the other person’s point of view. “We talk about our needs and our limits, avoiding putting them in opposition to those of the other person. It’s also important to see how each person has interpreted the situation,” explained Jean-Jacques. Then we come up with a joint solution. It’s impressive how this process can help defuse disputes.

However, “don’t use Time-Out in the middle of a dispute because it can easily add fuel to the fire!” explained Jean-Jacques.

This video (in Fench) from the à cœur d’homme network summarizes the tool. You can also contact Convergence for a more detailed explanation of Time-Out.

For Men’s Health and Well-Being

In conclusion, with 6 service outlets in Gaspé, Chandler, Caplan, Carleton-sur-Mer, Pointe-à-la-Croix, and Sainte-Anne-des-Monts (head office and Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie), Convergence is there to help men in need. The organization is even working to expand and adapt its services to better serve the region’s English-speaking and indigenous communities. We are committed to men’s health and well-being and offer confidential services that can make a real difference to your life. So, if you need help, don’t hesitate. Asking for help is powerful!

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