Only a few young companies can boast of encouraging school dropouts to return to their studies and at the same help seniors feel less isolated. But Vélo Duo managed to do just that, an inter-generational company that provides free accompanied bike tours to seniors. It will be available in Châteauguay starting the 15th of May. The following is an interview with Denis Desjardins, president and founder of the company.
Mathieu Gohier: Where did you get the idea to start such a company?
Denis Desjardins: Vélo Duo was inspired by several ideas. First, there was the need to make seniors feel less isolated socially by having them share their knowledge. People tend to underestimate their knowledge and so their experience unfortunately can’t be used to advantage. Then there’s the need to fight the phenomenon of school dropouts; one boy out of three does not finish high-school, you know. With Vélo Duo, young dropouts find a summer job and win a $2,000 scholarship by taking seniors on bike rides. The cyclists follow a historical route of the city where they find and complete visits to sites, thanks to the knowledge of their passengers. I, myself, dropped out of school and am very familiar with the obstacles that today’s youth must face. With Vélo Duo, both generations come out winners!
MG: The Vélo Duo will come to Châteauguay on the 15th of May; what kind of experience did the other cities have in previous summers?
DD: It must first be understood that the company has been in existence since 2004 and that our historical tour services have been available since summer 2008. This summer, Châteauguay will be the 13th city where Vélo Duo’s services will be introduced. Just last summer, no less than 20,000 bike tours were organised in Verchères, St. Lin, and Contrecœur, to name a few. The service is especially popular among senior homes; 620 seniors’ residences requested access to the service and the Fédération de l’Âge d’Or du Québec - FADOQ (Golden Age Federation of Quebec) supported us in our efforts.
MG: What was the city’s support to your project?
DD: Châteauguay has been our target in the last two years and I must say that the municipality’s support was very good. The municipal council unanimously supported us. The MNA for Châteauguay-Saint-Constant, Carole Freeman, also supported our initiative.
MG: If the service is free for seniors, how does Vélo-Duo cover its expenses? Do you receive financial aid?
DD: Vélo Duo is totally private and earns income only from philanthropic advertising. We’re maintaining our independence, and thanks to our partners like the Caisses Desjardins and Brunet pharmacies, we manage to cover our expenses.
MG: Vélo Duo is thriving, what are your plans for the future?
DD: Our goal is to serve 40 cities starting next summer, and of course to continue on the path where we have succeeded. Ultimately, my wish is for Vélo Duo to be present in all of Quebec’s 202 cities. Each city can benefit from our services because school dropouts and seniors are not the only ones who feel this lack.