Jenna’s Helping Hands aims to give back to the community
The family of Jenna Guillemette is turning personal tragedy and grief into a passion project to honor the legacy of their daughter and to give back to the community that helped them raise her.
Jenna’s Helping Hands, located on Route 1 in Frenchville in the former D-Garage building, hosted its grand opening on Wednesday, Oct. 26, which happens to be Jenna’s birthdate.
Jenna was just 17 when she suffered a sudden medical event and passed away in December 2019, rocking the tight knit community of Madawaska where she attended school as a junior and was her class president. Jenna was a light in the life of everyone who knew her. Her friends and family say her energy was contagious. She worked at Dolly’s Restaurant, took early college classes, loved reading, writing and traveling, and found her greatest joy in helping others – something she was first introduced to when volunteering at a young age at the local food pantry.
“Jenna was the kind of girl who could walk into any place and people would come out from around the counter to give her a hug. She was a rockstar,” said her father Thad Guillemette. “She just fell in love with helping people.”
Helping people is exactly the legacy Jenna’s family and friends want to preserve on her behalf through Jenna’s Helping Hands – a second-hand store with a charitable twist. The new 2,400 square foot thrift shop will focus on offering high-quality, gently used items to the community for nominal fees, and free clothing, school supplies and personal hygiene products to students who show their student identification card at the shop.
“We were a struggling family. We lived paycheck to paycheck and didn’t have much money. We got help and we just want to help others in return,” said Jenna’s mother Karen Cyr. “I feel like we’re helping people in honor of her. We want to spread some love and happiness in an otherwise negative world.”
Guillemette, worked in masonry and hardscaping and is now a full-time philanthropist and entrepreneur. Cyr worked at the Cubby Thrift Shop in Madawaska prior to its closure and is managing the startup. Guillemette and Cyr purchased the nearly 10,000 square foot building near the Madawaska town line on Route 1 and have been collecting and storing donations in it since in preparation for the opening. Nearly the entire building filled with donations of everything from furniture and household supplies to clothing and children’s toys in just two months. The response from the community was so overwhelming that Cyr paused accepting donations to give them time to sort through them all and finish setting up the store before the grand opening.
“This is my new home away from home,” said Cyr.
Cyr anticipates demand from the community to be high, especially at the start, so while the permanent hours for Jenna’s Helping Hands are still to be determined, they will open seven days a week at first, generally from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and shorter open hours on the weekends. Anyone can call the store at 207-728-9395 to discuss their specific needs.
Jenna’s siblings, 16-year-old Jiovanni and 14-year-old Jainnie, are also assisting with the project. In fact, the entire community has stepped up to help in various ways, from donations to giving of their time, and Guillemette and Cyr believe the response is in large part due to the special relationship Jenna had with everyone she met. She gave to the community, and now the community is giving back to make Jenna’s dream of helping others a reality.
“We don’t take credit for raising our children. It took a whole village of people we allowed our daughter to be around,” said Guillemette. “We always have opened our doors and we raised our kids to never give up on somebody.”
In addition to offering free items to students, the Guillemette family intends to work with local nonprofits to help families with specific needs. Profits from sales will help fund a scholarship the Freemasons have established in Jenna’s name. Each year, the scholarship provides $1,000 to a graduating student at each of the Valley Unified schools. That $1,000 is repeatable for each year the recipient continues his or her college education. The Freemasons have donation boxes set up in their facilities across the country to help fund the projects that honor Jenna’s legacy. Just in the past year, Guillemette says they have collected more than $15,000 from donations and fundraising events for the scholarship fund.