An organization that has been helping students stay in school for 34 years has a brand new three-storey building. A generous donation from a private business made it possible.

Toujours Ensemble opened the Marcelle and Jean Coutu Academic Perseverance Centre on Second Avenue in Verdun last Monday.

Launch attendees in front of the donors' wall
Launch attendees in front of the donors’ wall

Among the many spokespeople at the launch was 19-year-old Maria-Daniela Rojas Rincon. Rojas Rincon credits Toujours Ensemble (TE) for her current success in CEGEP.

“I’ve been coming here since I was nine years old and this place is the reason I’ve always done well in school,” she said. “My goal now is that I want Mathieu Sage’s job.”

Sage is second in command to Pierre Côté, president and executive director of Pathways Quebec ( Pathways is the provincial wing of a national program that aims to stem Canada’s high school drop-out rate. The five-person team rents offices on the third floor of the new building.

Verdun Drop Out Rate Too High

Rojas Rincon is on track for her dream now, but her path towards success wasn’t so rosy when she joined TE’s Parcours program a decade ago. One of every two students in Verdun doesn’t finish high school.

“Verdun has one of the highest drop-out rates in Montreal and that’s not often known because it includes Nun’s Island and that means the statistics are skewed,” says Rachel Renaud, TE’s executive director.

Parcours Program Helps

Academic Perseverance Centre launch
Rachel Renaud speaking at the Academic Perseverance Centre launch

Renaud’s team works hard to lower those statistics one student at a time. Any person aged between 6 and 17 years who lives in Verdun can join Toujour Ensemble’s Parcours program. Parcours offers drop-in homework help, a library, a computer room and funding for school supplies and scholarships.

“We’ve graduated two cohorts of students and we’re on our third group in May,” she said

The much-needed programs cost about $2 million dollars to operate every year, and the Coutu Foundation has been sponsoring the organization since its inception.

In the past couple of years, students started crowding into various rental spaces around town, so the organization began looking at possibilities for expansion. Yet they were reluctant to take their emphasis off operational fundraising.

Coutu Family Makes Academic Perseverance Centre Possible

To help, the Coutu family offered to donate an old medical centre building that they originally planned to sell. Toujours Ensemble planned to renovate it, but asbestos and other challenges made that impossible. Foundations operated by the families of the Steinburg’s, Renaud’s and Zeller’s chipped in to ensure that the new $3.1 million building can be fully paid off.

Perseverance Centre Launch
Marie-Josée and Jean Coutu during launch of Academic Perseverance Centre in Verdun

The entire Coutu family attended the launch last Monday. Renaud said they were visibly moved as students and parents thanked them for all their help. Marcelle, Jean and Sylvie Coutu even got up on stage next to Foundation spokesperson Marie-Josée Coutu as she spoke of their commitment to education success.

“We’re so blessed,” said Renaud.

Toujours Ensemble Turns 35 Next Year

Now that the new building is launched, Renaud is busy organizing TE’s 35th Anniversary next year. Plans include the official inauguration of their older building on Verdun Street.


More Information

For more information about Toujours Ensemble, refer to their website at

Note: This article appeared on pages 13 and 16 in yesterday’s City Edition of The Suburban. It also appears automatically on


Tracey Arial

Unapologetically Canadian Tracey Arial promotes creative entrepreneurship as an author, cooperative business leader, gardener, family historian and podcaster.

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