Promoting inclusion and mental well-being | Promouvoir l’inclusion et le mieux-être mental
Inspirations Articles

The Inspirations Entrepreneurial Award Meet Benoit Labrèche

Winner of the Inspirations Entrepreneurial Award, Benoit Labrèche, poses for a photo in NDG on August 30. Photo: N. Proano
Winner of the Inspirations Entrepreneurial Award, Benoit Labrèche, poses for a photo in NDG on August 30. Photo: N. Proano
Montreal - Thursday, December 15, 2022

by Nicole Proano

Benoit Labrèche is the winner of this edition’s Inspirations Entrepreneurial Award. The award, sponsored by local business owner Henry Zavriyev, is given to an outstanding individual with special needs who is succeeding at their place of work or who has started their own business. Labrèche’s demonstrated strong work ethic coupled with his perseverance and positive outlook throughout his life have earned him the tribute. “For me, it was a total surprise and also a huge honour,” Labrèche said. “I accept it with humility.”

Diagnosed with autism in October 2020, Labrèche said he’s faced a lot of discrimination including when applying for jobs. There were periods in his life in which he was particularly discouraged, like after surgeries for his muscular dystrophy that didn’t go well. Labrèche has four children and because of his physical challenge he cannot have his three youngest over at the same time. Rather than letting these hardships bring him down, Labrèche sees them as making him stronger.

Labrèche has continued to invest in his own professional development through education. In 2010, he obtained his Secondary 5 equivalency. Then, three years later, he went on to earn a skills training certificate (STC) in debt collection and collection services, making top grades in some of his classes. Despite these achievements, Labrèche struggled to find employment in his field because of difficulties getting past the interview process. Earning a living wage remains one of his main goals. He says he wants to work and earn his way “to have a better quality of life.”

Labrèche has been working at a Jean Coutu pharmacy as a customer service agent since 2018, but one day he hopes to own his own business. Becoming an entrepreneur is one of his many aspirations, which also include writing a book and hosting a radio show. A common thread in each of his dreams is to use the platform his achievements give him to advocate for people with special needs. “I’d like to write a biography,” he said. “But also, a book about autism – to be a voice for people with autism and be a defender of them. Like a Greta Thunberg but for people with autism.

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Labrèche’s development with Social Tree

Since joining the Social Tree Foundation two years ago, Benoit Labrèche’s professional development has grown by leaps and bounds. Labrèche credits much of his newfound confidence to the foundation and its vice-president, Patricia Lucarelli, who’s been working with him on developing his skills related to the hiring process. Interviews were previously one of Labrèche’s weaknesses, so they focus a lot of attention on building up his confidence in that area through simulations and videos. “At the work level, all my life I had a lot of difficulties,” Labrèche said. “For nearly 30 years…I had a hard time…but with Patricia, things advanced. They fight for the underdog.”

The Social Tree also aims to support companies that hire individuals on the autism spectrum by training employers on inclusion. “We don’t want it all to be on the individual [with autism],” the foundation’s founder and president Francesca Dansereau said. “We need a proper work force environment. And the environment, at this point is, I think, the next step.”

Career development is just one area the Social Tree Foundation targets. Dansereau and her team seek to implement a holistic approach to improve the quality of life of autistic individuals. Dansereau says they focus on the person’s physical health, psychological well-being, level of independence, social interactions, personal beliefs and the characteristics of their environment. There are several programs within the Social Tree Foundation that address each sphere.

Labrèche also takes advantage of the social events organized by the foundation and says he enjoys the community he’s found. “For those of us in the foundation,” Labrèche said, “we really don’t feel abandoned because Patricia and the others at the Social Tree are really there for us.” The foundation has an open-door policy so if members step away for a time and decide they want to return for support they will be welcomed back.

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Another book for Lachapelle

 by Wendy Singer

Julie Chou and Benjamin Lachapelle (top) show the cover of Pace-Ants to Henry Zavriyev (bottom) on a videoconference call on August 25.

Benjamin Lachapelle’s paintings and picture books immediately captured the interest of Inspirations’ Entrepreneurial Award sponsor Henry Zavriyev. They were the reason behind his choice of Lachapelle as the Spring-Summer 2022 recipient of the award.

On August 25, Lachapelle, along with his mother Julie Chou, met Zavriyev via videoconference to celebrate the award and receive his prize. Zavriyev will cover a portion of the publishing costs of Lachapelle’s new softcover picture book titled Pace-Ants, which is now available for purchase on Amazon.

Zavriyev was curious to learn more about Lachapelle and Pace-Ants, so the 20-yearold author treated him to a book reading. Zavriyev was both impressed and touched by the picture book, which whimsically features various animals who explore the virtue of patience. “Your book is amazing,” said Zavriyev to Lachapelle. “Aside from it being sweet and beautiful, it will be an excellent teaching tool.”

Chou explained how passionate her son is about animals and the environment and how he uses his art to cope with the stresses of life. “When Benjamin finds out that an animal has gone on the endangered species list, he paints his heart out. Art is his way of coping and destressing.”