Kids in Port Alberni getting the right start

A new Early Years Centre at E.J. Dunn Elementary will aim to fill the gaps for kids and families in the Alberni Valley.

Early Years Centre connector Kelsi Martens

Raising little tykes just became a little bit easier for parents in the Alberni Valley.

“We were very fortunate to be granted an Early Years Centre,” said John Howitt Elementary Principal and School District 70 community development Stacey Manson. The centre will operate out of E.J. Dunn Elementary School with a grand opening from 4-7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 26.

According to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, the Early Years Centre is part of a provincial initiative meant to be a “convenient one-stop access to supports and services that will help their children learn, grow and thrive.”

The 47 centres across the province have five aims:

• Offer parenting support information and/or programs to support children’s social and emotional well-being.

• Provide access to early intervention information, referrals, and/or services.

• Provide health promotion and prevention information and/or services.

• Provide information and/or linkages that support young children transitioning to Kindergarten.

• Provide information on child care programs available in the local community.

A group of four staff applied for the grant last year, said Early Years Centre coordinator Maggie Hodge-Kwan.

“We worked on this proposal about a year ago through the Alberni Children First network… and this was developed with them. It’s really representative of the community,” Hodge-Kwan said. Alberni Children First is a group of service providers working with children and families  that meets monthly during the school year.

According to Manson, the Port Alberni centre will focus on adapting the provincial Early Years Centres framework to the specific situation in the Valley.

“When we’re talking about kindergarten transition, we’d really like to work with our early childhood educators and our kindergarten teachers to really figure out the best way to support students coming into kindergarten,” she said.

The Early Years Centre will look at ways to complement, not compete, with other children’s services in the region.

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“One of the really great things about the early years community in Port Alberni is that it is a really strong and collaborative group of people,” said Hodge-Kwan.

To that end, the centre has partnered with over 20 organizations Valley-wide, including the Circles of Cedar FASD Resource Centre, Island Health, the Nuu-chah-nuulth Tribal Council, the Port Alberni Friendship Centre, School District 70 and the Vancouver Island Regional Library.

“We’re looking at the things that are already working really well in the community. We know that there are amazing  organizations doing good things and perhaps they’ve run out of space or they don’t have access in their organization to say, the great kitchen we have here,” said Hodge-Kwan.

“So we’re offering a coordinated space to do those things in and mixing that with some new initiatives and some fresh approaches to working with children and families.”

Early Years Center connector Kelsi Martens sees the centre as a central spot for all families in Port Alberni looking for help and services.

“The thing I like about this is that because it’s so collaborative with so many partners working together, it helps find gaps or overlaps and it can be a ‘one stop hub’ for families and kids,” said Martens.

While located at E.J. Dunn, the centre will be a place for all Port Alberni families.

“It’s going to be a place for Port Alberni. It will remove– barriers and the community will have ownership of this building,” said connector Carrie Nahorney. She hopes that the centre will add to the sense of community in the area.

“I think we live in a backyard society and you don’t always really know your neighbours,” she said.

“Families don’t always have extended family so to have a central place where all the partners can come together with families and they can connect and share—I think that’s extremely valuable. I think it can add to existing community frameworks.”

E.J. Dunn was chosen to house the centre because of its accessibility.

“We chose Dunn because it’s centrally located, it’s on a bus route,” said Manson.

While the centre is in its very early stages, Manson said that they are looking for ways to accommodate everyone’s schedules.

“We’re really working on trying to have some evening opportunities and possibly some weekends,” she said.

The Alberni Valley Early Years Centre is having a grand opening on Monday, Sept. 26 from 4-7 p.m. at the Early Years Centre at E.J. Dunn at 3500 Argyle St. The grand opening is free and open to the public and will have games, food, books and more. To contact the centre parents can email earlyyearscentre@sd70.bc.ca or find them on Facebook by searching for “Alberni Valley Early Years Centre.”

A calendar of activities for the centre is available at www.sd70.bc.ca.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

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