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AMCAL: Just Like Family

Entrepreneur’s corner | July 5 2020

For nearly half a century, AMCAL Family Services  has been providing youth and families in difficulty with several different types of assistance. Despite the complications caused by the pandemic, the team has continued to be there for families and provide an answer to their needs.

AMCAL is a community organization based in the city of Pointe-Claire that has been working since 1975 with families experiencing problems with relationships, conflicts, behaviours, schooling, etc. Its team of educators, therapists and social workers daily assist people struggling with anxiety, depression, grief, disruptive behaviours and other similar disorders.

Unlike groups that provide services on call to deal with urgent or violent situations, AMCAL is not a crisis centre. Instead, it is a resource people can turn to when they are no longer able to solve issues on their own, when they find themselves at a dead-end.

Promoting and maintaining healthy family relationships

One of the half-dozen programs offered by AMCAL, the Residential Program has been in place for more than 30 years. This eight-to 14-week program for parents and teens offers troubled teens between the ages of 12-17 the opportunity to stay each Monday to Thursday at the organization’s Residence. This provides everyone with much space so that they can clear their minds while regaining the physical and emotional energy they need to deal with family issues: poor school performance, running away from home, anger, lying, closing off from the family, refusing to do chores or obey rules at home, loss of interest in sports and leisure activities, poor relationships, recurring aggression, etc.

There is also a family therapy program, built around themes designed to strengthen family bonds and maintain healthy family relationships. In addition, collaborations with certain groups (Lester B. Pearson and Marguerite-Bourgeois school boards, CLSC Pierrefonds, CLSC Lac St-Louis, West Island Women's Centre, etc.) have made it possible to add other components. For example, one organization is aimed at developing positive social skills and good relationships in social, family and school environments. Another focuses more on helping develop parenting skills and fostering socialization among young people.

Finding solutions from within

“ The family is the very basic building block of the human being, ” explains AMCAL's Executive Director, Sophie Dalbec. “ Think of how often people recall their childhood saying, ‘ We didn’t have a lot of money, but there was a lot of love in our home. ’ So our approach is not to heal people, provide individual therapies or find who’s to blame in a conflict situation, but to involve every family member in finding solutions. ”

Empowering individuals is at the heart of what we do.

Some programs require users to complete a 12-page questionnaire, demonstrating their commitment to success. “ Empowering individuals is at the heart of what we do. We always try to demonstrate that actions have an impact. That’s why we never use predetermined intervention plans applied to every case. We want to find lasting solutions, so we encourage people to be more introspective. What do they want to become ? Where do they see themselves in the future ? What do they want to change ? These are all questions we ask them in order to stimulate their reflection and, ultimately, help them rebuild their lives.”

We make them understand that they themselves are the army that will lead the battle. When a person wants permanent change, he or she must be able to name that change. 

Administrative challenges related to the pandemic 

In terms of funding, AMCAL and its team of 35 employees, eight of whom are full-time, operate on an annual budget of approximately $ 1 million. Approximately 40 % of this amount comes from agreements under which the group acts as a subcontractor or outsourcer. For example, its services are used for supervised visits where access rights have been previously determined by the courts.

Nearly 35 % of its funding is provided by the Government of Québec, while the rest is generated by major donors such as The Home Depot Canada Foundation, Tenaquip Foundation and West Island Community Shares. In addition, various fundraising initiatives are organized throughout the year.

However, this year the pandemic forced Sophie Dalbec to cancel three events that would have raised $ 100,000 for her organization: a cocktail party in April, a dragon boat competition in early June and a golf tournament in September. 

If we add to that the fact that we have had no income from our Residence since mid-March, that means we need to tighten up our management. 

In recent years, AMCAL had been able to generate a small profit ($ 25,000 in 2019), which was reinvested in its activities and programs. A deficit in the current fiscal year would therefore not be disastrous, according to the Executive Director. “ In 1990, the organization lost major funding. It was then decided that AMCAL needed to diversify revenue sources in order to minimize risk and avoid financial instability. ”

That said, even if she is not worried about the short-term effects of the pandemic, Sophie Dalbec acknowledges that the major donors of previous years will no doubt have suffered the adverse financial consequences of the pandemic that has been raging since last March. “ Since we have no control over that aspect, we will focus on things we can control. In any case, we are known to be very rigorous in terms of cost management. ”

More space, more services

When the situation returns to normal, AMCAL will also have an additional 1,000 sq. feet at its Sainte-Anne Avenue facility, as an expansion of the premises was completed a few weeks before the pandemic started. “ This additional space will allow us to increase our services by 20 % when activities are resumed. ”

As of March 16, we were fully functional, because we quickly adapted our services to offer them online and remotely.

Sophie Dalbec says she expects a lot of unknowns when operations resume, due to the perverse effects of containment. “ As of March 16, we were fully functional, because we quickly adapted our services to offer them online and remotely,” she explains. “However, because young people have been absent from classes since that time, we no longer receive feedback from teachers and principals about potential pedagogical problems. On the other hand, since school is often a source of anxiety, not going to school may have contributed to lower anxiety levels for many young people. However, when they return to school this fall there could be a backlash. In short, we will have to be ready.” In short, we will have to be ready. ”

In the same vein, the expert believes that containment may also have transformed previously strained family relationships for the better. “ For several weeks, parents have had time to chat with their children or cook meals with them. We'll have to be there if the return to routine adversely affects families. ” 

How PME MTL made a difference for AMCAL

“ Financing of $ 24,000 from PME MTL allowed us to expand our facilities last February. This resulted in a 20 % increase in our services and the addition of two full-time resources to our team. In fact, we called on the expertise of the people at PME MTL to ensure that the job postings fully met our needs. We also benefited from their expertise in setting up emergency support during the outbreak of the pandemic crisis. PME MTL has a strong presence in our sector, the West Island. They have been a wonderful discovery for us. ”


AMCAL is supported by PME MTL Ouest-de-l'Île.

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