Jolicoeur: Autumnfest grand marshal honor is ‘a dream come true’

Jolicoeur: Autumnfest grand marshal honor is ‘a dream come true’

Jennifer Jolicoeur will be honored as the grand marshal of this year’s Autumnfest parade. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – Jennifer Jolicoeur, founder of Athena’s Home Novelties, was busy celebrating the company’s 23rd anniversary at its headquarters on Winter Street last Thursday, April 1, when she was interrupted by a knock on the door.

What she thought at first was a hired marching band in orange turned out to be the entire Autumnfest Steering Committee arriving with the news she’d been selected as the grand marshal of this year’s Autumnfest parade.

Per Autumnfest tradition, General Chairperson Garrett Mancieri delivered the news accompanied by Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and City Council President Daniel Gendron. Citing her past accomplishments as a business leader and community organizer, Mancieri said she was a “perfect example of one of our community heroes.”

“Not only did she make her dream come true by building up a successful business, but she did it in the face of adversity and overcame that to make it successful,” he said.

In addition to her role in the business world, Jolicoeur was recognized for her successful attempt to break the Guinness World Record for longest bra chain. The 10-year effort culminated in the stringing together of 195,564 bras over two weeks at River’s Edge Recreation Complex in October of 2019.

“Even better, out of that, you really rallied the community, and that’s what it’s all about for us,” Mancieri said.

Jolicoeur became visibly emotional at the news and thanked her family, along with Baldelli-Hunt and WOON Radio Owner Dave Richards, who she said were among her first and biggest supporters in the city.

“As far as being the grand marshal, it’s like a little girl’s dream come true,” she said. “You always want to be in the parade, and I’m going to get to lead the parade.”

Jolicoeur, a Woonsocket native living in North Smithfield, was in her 20s and working at CVS when she founded Athena’s Home Novelties, an adult novelty company with a focus on sex education and women’s empowerment. Jolicoeur said the early days were difficult as she worked to break down stereotypes in the city and get residents and community leaders to view her as a legitimate business owner.

“To get your community to accept you as someone who is promoting healthy sexual attitudes is daunting. It’s not something that people like to talk about,” she said.

Along the way, she founded Athena’s Cup, a Guinness World Record attempt that started as an effort to raise awareness about breast cancer. Over 10 years, she and her Athena’s “goddesses” collected thousands of bras from residents and supporters in other parts of the country, many of them collected from a booth at Autumnfest.

Jolicoeur was originally intended to serve as grand marshal of the 2020 Autumnfest parade, but those plans were put on hold when the pandemic shut down all events during the week of the intended announcement last spring.

“It’s the largest secret we’ve ever kept, that’s for sure,” Mancieri said.

Jolicoeur said last week the past year has been draining as she wondered if her company, which now includes more than 1,000 members operating home parties around the country, would survive the pandemic. Learning the news on the anniversary of her company’s founding, she said, was truly an honor.

“It finally gave me some happiness after so much struggle. I slept through the night. I haven’t slept through the night in so long,” she said.

Mancieri said the Steering Committee is moving forward with Autumnfest as planned, with a few changes to account for safety measures during the pandemic. The food court area, he said, will be more spread out to allow for distancing while eating, and some of the sports competitions will be altered.

At this point, he said, they don’t expect to require all attendees to wear masks, but many of those details will depend on the state of the pandemic and vaccination efforts as the October date approaches.

“I know the community’s really looking forward to it coming back, and we’re looking forward to bringing it back this year,” he said.

Comments

Thank you to the Valley Breeze for such a nice article about this tremendous honor!