Solange Garcon, the Centre’s executive assistant, is also its indefatigable heart. Brilliant, versatile and resourceful, she seems to have her helping hand in every file. Solange meets and exceeds the many demands of the Centre staff and keeps the machine running smoothly, like an ace mechanic. Despite her discrete profile, Solange exerts a giant influence on all occasions. Today we are shining a spotlight on our bright, versatile and modest Solange, even though she’d rather stay behind the curtain.
Question: Solange, tell us about your academic background.
My university education [at the Sorbonne] was aimed at a career selling art works. At the same time, I did small translation jobs as well as web graphics with my friends, students in computer science. Finally, I decided to take graduate studies at UQÀM in modern architecture and heritage, as part of an international exchange program.
You weren’t drawn to go back home to France after your studies in Quebec?
In the first year of my Specialized Graduate Studies Diploma (DESS), I met my partner, and I never left. But, to stay in Quebec after studies, you need a job. In my field of study, jobs are often subsidized, so they tend to be reserved for permanent residents or Canadians. So I had to reorient myself. An employment agency found me a job with Avenir d´enfants [AE].
What is the link with the activities of the Centre?
During my six years at Avenir d’enfants, I became familiarize with concepts such as analyzing action plans for allocating funds or evaluating the impact of financial projects, and acquiring rich, varied and valuable knowledge and experiences that would help the Centre. During my tenure as Executive Assistant, I notably had the opportunity to manage the organization of the board of directors, to draft hiring letters and to collaborate in the organization of major events. My apprenticeship at AE was very relevant to my current job. I understood that to change things, you have to mobilize people in the sector and encourage the transfer of knowledge.
After Avenir d´enfants, the field of community housing seems a little far from your fields of interest …
I am a landlord myself and my partner works in the construction industry. On a daily basis, we see links between our reality and those of groups financed by the Centre. We are therefore committed to managing ethically. It is sometimes frustrating to see everything that could or should be done to improve the community housing situation… The task seems surreal.
Weren’t you hesitant to be part of a barely emerging organization?
Arriving at the very beginning of an organization’s life and being able to work with the executive director to lay a solid foundation for the Centre was very tempting to me. From the outset, the mission and the management model of the organization spoke to me, because it was very similar to what I had experienced at AE. The values of the Centre naturally intersect my own. That’s also what makes a work-life balance so difficult: when we become aware of the impact of our work, how do we stop the punch clock?
Tell us about your beginnings at the Centre.
Our goal was to bring the IT platform online on Dec. 13, 2019; it was the heart of communications with our project financing clients. Faced with this ridiculous deadline and this titanic mission, many would have given up, but the small team (…) scrambled like cats on a hot tin roof to deliver on time.
Three months later, the pandemic arrived. How did the Centre adapt to the new reality?
Before the emergence of Covid, the executive director wanted us to be able at a moment’s notice to be equipped to do our tasks remotely at any time, regardless of the context. Being familiar with telework in my previous job, I made sure that employees were equipped accordingly. That was fortuitous, since the lockdown was imposed six months later. The staff’s production capacity wasn’t affected much and the Centre has been able to work full steam on its projects and partnerships.
Despite Covid, the Centre has been able to continue its supporting role in the well-established community housing environment. The context is more difficult than ever for the poor in our society and that is what motivates our employees. However, for many, overload blurs the line between work and private life. Covid also deprives us of the social dimension with colleagues in the office. A tele-meeting will never replace the human presence.
What are your tasks these days at the Centre?
Officially, I am the executive assistant. I am expected to ensure the smooth running of day-to-day operations by meeting the team’s material and technical needs. I work closely with operations and general management to ensure that procedures are consistent, efficient and functional, while handling numerous human-resources-related tasks. I am also the one who has to ensure the smooth operation of the board of directors, the negotiation and renewal of contracts with suppliers, as well as the management of our cloud infrastructures, etc.
In fact, the Centre is growing and constantly evolving. That’s why I need to carry out all kinds of tasks to advance our many projects. This often forces me to acquire new skills and knowledge to fulfill my mandates to the best of my ability. It’s very motivating! It’s quite intense, but luckily I can count on the help of our administrative assistant, Souad.
“Intense” is the least we can say. Thanks to Covid, Solange works at home like the rest of the team — but she’s also surrounded by the couple’s three … no, four children! Little Raphaël was born this January. (Don’t worry, she’s on maternity leave now.) So how does she manage to accomplish all that? Only a magician can do it all, and the Centre can boast of having a truly masterful one in its ranks.