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Testimonial: Michel Jezke, sponsor of the Zone d’Ombre et d’Utopie (ZOU) non-profit organisation in Saint-Denis

August 2017

Michel JEZKE is a project manager at Cegelec Projets Espace. He sponsors the ZOU non-profit organisation, helping to disseminate the ZOU film about bringing between young people and seniors together in Saint-Denis.

1) How did you hear about ZOU?

I was sponsoring two young people for Civic Service at Unis-cité and got in touch with Mme Mankour, who heads the CCAS (senior centre) in Saint Denis; my two young people wanted to set up animal-assisted therapy workshops in retirement and nursing homes, but were finding it difficult to get approvals and meetings because of their age. I served as their sponsor to help them contact the relevant people. Mme Mankour put us in touch with the retirement homes she manages in Saint Denis and enabled us to do several workshops, which were very positive, to such an extent that the directors of the retirement and nursing homes now want to continue the activity.
Before sponsoring this project, I was not really aware of how isolated seniors are and how much good it does them to be able to talk to young people about their past (the quiz the young people did with them about the animals were the starting point).
A majority of retirement and nursing home residents receive no visits because their families are often abroad, their children or grandchildren have gone to live elsewhere or they don’t have any family in the first place.
As Mme Mankour and I talked about the benefits of the young people’s workshops, she told me about Philippe Fenwick’s project, which she also works on via the Saint Denis City Hall. Philippe Fenwick noticed that the Basilique youth centre and the retirement home are located exactly 100 steps apart. Putting two and two together, he realised that those 100 steps separate two categories of people who are isolated and considered inactive within society; the one trait they share is the fact that one category, young people, lack contact with their elders due to distance and the other, seniors, have a need to transmit their past experience (life experience, etc.) to the younger generation. Philippe Fenwick has the idea of bringing these two categories of people together and made a “snapshot” film to show how constructive these gatherings can be for both groups.
In a nutshell, I thought the idea was a fantastic way to serve the public interest. There needs to be a driving force to get people to take those 100 steps, and I hope that disseminating the film will encourage a lot of municipalities to take them.

2) What do you do in practice to support the non-profit?

I talked about it with Philippe Fenwick and Mme Mankour. The City of Saint Denis is also involved in producing the film, so I think the most useful thing I can do is to promote it with the other municipalities. I have several city hall contacts in the northern Paris suburbs and in Paris itself and I will try to promote the film with them. My job as a project manager at Vinci gives me a certain standing with public authorities.

3) What does your sponsorship mean to you?

I began working very early (at age 16) and I haven’t forgotten the people who helped me and advised me throughout my career. So I think it is now my turn to spend some time helping and advising others and the Vinci foundation gives me an opportunity to do that.