28 September, 2020
Looking back to the spring of 2020: Surpassing oneself during a pandemic
At the initiative of Quebec's head scientist, The Québec Research Funds and OSEntreprendre have joined forces to promote the resilience, creativity and initiatives of enterprises having won the Student Founder of a Business Prize awarded by the OSEntreprendre Challenge.
Défie Toi offers a full range of physical and outdoor activities adapted to special needs children aged 5 to 13 years in the Basses-Laurentides region.
"These are kids who are generally very comfortable with their routine, the slightest change to which is enough to make them feel overwhelmed! This is why we favour small groups, recruit special needs experts and work closely with families," says Élisabeth Arseneault-Duquet, service director and president of Défie Toi.
This "slightest change" took an unexpected form in the spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted Défie Toi's activities. The enterprise had just wrapped up its March break camp and was getting ready to release its spring service offer.
"We didn't have a choice: we had to respect sanitation protocols and suspend our activities. Overnight, twenty-five families were left in the lurch, which meant they had to cope with their child's special needs all on their own," says the businesswoman.
It was out of the question for Défie Toi to stand idly by. At the outset of the crisis, the enterprise established a support forum moderated by a dozen or so special education student volunteers. Their involvement made a world of difference to these families, who could ask questions, pick up tips and talk about the challenges they were facing.
In the meantime, Défie Toi was planning its summer day camps, for which many options were considered. "Should we require everyone to wear a mask? Could social distancing be respected? We weighed the pros and cons in consultation with the families," recalls Arseneault-Duquet.
On June 24, 2020, Défie Toi inaugurated its summer camp at Parc du Domaine Vert in Mirabel. Swimming, a ropes course, rock climbing and archery: for eight weeks, the children from 40 families surpassed themselves by taking part in outdoor activities every day. In the end, the operation was a complete success, which confirms that the reasons for holding the camp, despite the pandemic, were well-founded.
"We had to find another way to deliver our services—and we did. Défie Toi was one of the only local enterprises in our field to accomplish this," says Arseneault-Duquet proudly. During COVID-19, she collaborated with two other enterprises— Letmetalk and Strat n Bloom—to redo the Défie Toi website.
The lockdown also led Arseneault-Duquet to think about other projects for the coming months and years. "We've been toying with the idea of having a mobile office that could be disinfected after each use," she says. "This would allow us to go to our clients' homes to provide more effective support."
Participation in the OSEntreprendre Challenge
- Regional prizewinner Business Creation section Laurentides 2019
- Jury's Favorite Student Founder of a Business Prize - Laurentides - Les Fonds de recherche du Québec