French speakers and French enthusiasts alike have come together for the last few years to discuss their love of all things France in an unlikely place: Newburgh Free Library.
That is the site of the Hudson Valley Francophone Connection, which holds meetings on the first Sunday of every month. The group started in 2013 by Angela Paul-Gaito and Delphine Gueren, two friends who met over Facebook and bonded over being French mothers living in the City of Newburgh. “Our kids stopped having a connection to their culture,” said Paul-Gaito, who moved to the area in 2007 and owns APG Pilates. “They wanted to know other French families in the area, so we started hanging out together.”
Another motivation for the group was to bring French personalities to Newburgh for French-speaking residents to enjoy. “There was a French comedian who some of us were interested in seeing perform in New York City,” said Gueren, a French teacher in Wappingers Central School District who has lived in the Hudson Valley for 15 years. “We wanted to know what we could do to bring him to Newburgh.”
Meetings are typically conducted in French but translated in English for those who are not fluent. Guest speakers from the area often come by to talk about their love of French culture, and those who attend meetings include Francophiles, natives of French-speaking countries, immigrants from France, and parents of children who are studying abroad in France or French-speaking countries.
Additionally, the library offers a book club that meets prior to the Francophone Connection that reads books in French to teach the language to both kids and adults.
There are also plenty of French-speaking and Francophile business owners in the area. Phillipe Pierre owns Palate Wines and Spirits and Ms. Fairfax, both of which are located on Liberty Street. Also on Liberty Street is Simple Gifts and Goodies, a boutique owned by Nancy Colas, the daughter of Haitian immigrants. She opened the business in 2003 and loves the French-speaking community residing in the city. “I realized a long time ago that in order to embrace any change, you have to invest,” she said. “This place is very dear to my heart. People are more than neighbors [in the City of Newburgh], there is a great sense of community.”
Other French-speaking business owners in the area include Savine Pontifell, who found a home for her husband’s private book publishing firm, Thornwillow Press, in an abandoned factory on Spring Street.
For more information on the Hudson Valley Francophone connection, visit FrenchNewburgh.wixsite.com online, or email Paul-Gaito at FrenchNewburgh@gmail.com.