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Balance key to 24 new child care spaces at Athol Town Hall

Athol Town Hall – The County photo

The desire to create much-needed child care spaces while balancing existing users’ wants and needs is the goal to formulate in a five-year lease agreement between the municipality and The HUB Child and Family Centre.

The Athol Town Hall in Cherry Valley is being considered as an ideal satellite daycare to benefit two dozen pre-school aged children and their families – as well as a use of resources that could serve as a pilot for daytime use of halls in other wards.

At Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting, much discussion with councillors and members of the public centred on balancing day care with the wants and continued uses of other groups – most notably the Women’s Institute and Athol Recreation.

“Anyone aware of the current state of child care in the County knows the enormity of the problem,” said Rebecca Denning, a member of the PEC Needs Child Care group which shared a survey with councillors leading up to the 2022 election that showed more than 100 responses from families experiencing “desperation and hopelessness” in finding child care to get back to work.

Women’s Institute member Debra Marshall called for “a lot more collaboration before this is a done deal” on the draft lease details.

CAO Marcia Wallace clarified that representatives from all the main parties had met last week with favourable discussion on the draft document and ways to work together, but that draft was purposefully not fully detailed until council support was known.

“I want to make it clear that we are going to do our best to engage,” said Wallace. “We didn’t want to have it all worked out as if it was assuming that this very unusual proposal was going to go forward because it’s not a decision of staff – it’s a decision of council.”

Council decided a bylaw to enter into a lease agreement should be brought forward to the June 25 council meeting with a detailed version of the agreement following more consultation with the HUB, WI and Athol Rec outlining shared use of the facility.

The lease would be reviewed after one year.

“From my last resolution that I brought to council about homelessness, we have said we aren’t happy with how the province, and the feds, have been treating our social services,” said councillor for Athol, Sam Branderhorst, who also sits on PELASS. “They are downloading. They are making it impossible for us to make decisions. We fight for every nickel and dime for this municipality… We have been getting spammed for the last three days constantly from parents saying yes, please. But let’s move in a way that also works for our community.”

Council had also received background on the request from Stacey Stanford, executive director with the HUB Child and Family Centre – a not-for-profit organization based in Picton serving family and child care needs throughout the County since 1989.

She stressed the demand for child care in Prince Edward County exceeds available spaces, and others speaking from the audience also confirmed the need is great as their wait in some cases had been a year or two before being able to gain care.

“Our current waitlist for all programs, including our Child Care Centres and Home Care spaces, is over 400 families,” said Stanford.

Prince Edward Lennox & Addington Social Services has the responsibility to deliver provincial childcare funding, and in its Directed Growth Strategy it is noted there are currently 83 unallocated Canada Wide Early Learning Childcare spaces for Prince Edward County – 53 of those spaces for Community 7 (Picton, Athol and Marysburgh), stated Stanford. “It also mentions that the Athol area is at the top of the priority list.”

The HUB’s vision of this space is for a childcare operation week days from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. year-round, and that the community would still be able to use Athol Town Hall on evenings and weekends.

Athol Town Hall playground – The County photo

“Preliminary modifications to the Athol Town Hall would be a renovation to the washroom facilities, an industrial use dishwasher for the kitchen, and a fenced in playground area. All of these can be used by the community on evenings and weekends,” said Stanford.

Currently the Cherry Valley Women’s Institute and Athol Recreation are the main users of the hall.

Lisa Lindsay, Director of Recreation and Community Facilities, in her report to council, stated the hall generated $1,560 from 153 hours of bookings in 2022, and $820 from 83 hours of bookings and 80 hours of in-kind use in 2023. So far for 2024 bookings (January to June) include $150 of revenue from five hours of bookings, 60 hours of in-kind use, and $225 in revenue from eight hours of bookings from Community Care for Seniors.

Lindsay notes co-operation between all the users will be required for successful hall-sharing. A few daytime events would have to be moved to an evening, or weekend – or, as discussed at the meeting, an inter-generational effort could be made for some occasions such as the annual strawberry social, or ham supper.

Staff note the HUB could be free of rental cost of approximately $500 a month at first, given the investment it is making – including the washroom and kitchen renovations, but a rental fee could be negotiated.

Stanford noted The HUB would also ensure the playground has the proper fencing needed (minimum four feet) as the ministry requires two hours of outdoor activity daily.

“We would need a space for office use and a lunch room area… locked filing cabinets, storage for toys and cots for the children to sleep on… shelves that close and lock and can be pushed up against the walls for nighttime, as well as all furniture can be moved to the sides for access to the hall. We would clean up the day use area and tidy before nighttime and weekends if the County has booked the community use on the hall.”

Stanford explained the Athol Town Hall project would focus on children 30-44 months, and will operate as a satellite program to existing programs.

“We are professionals deeply rooted in our community,” said Stanford. “Our mission is to provide a variety of quality services and supports which enhance the physical, emotional and developmental wellbeing of all members within our community. Our goal is, adding this space to our current one will allow more involvement with our community and our partners. This expansion will also provide employment and volunteer opportunities for the community members.”

“The HUB has so much to offer from child care spaces to resources for community families that may be struggling, we have the resources, services and supports that are needed,” said Stanford.

 

Halle checks her paints while Jack applies his artistic touch to the wall painting area at the HUB Child and Family Centre at 10 McFarland Court, Picton  – Countylive.ca file photo.

The HUB Child & Family Centre currently has five main program areas serving infants to children 12 years of age, and their families:

Licensed Child Care: The Hub is the largest provider of licensed child care in the County at two established Centres, one in Picton (serving 85 families) and one centre located at Massassaga-Rednersville Public School (serving 37 families). In addition, it offers a half day preschool program at PECI, four days a week for 32 families.

Before & Afterschool Programs: Before and after school care at five schools – PECI, Sophiasburgh, Kente, CML and St. Gregorys. (Also Summer Camp at two of those sites currently.)

Home Child Care Program: The Home Child Care Program provides support and guidance to home-based caregivers throughout Prince Edward County. The program offers parents supervised; home-based, licensed child care options. The Home Child Care Program currently offers child care to 7 homes throughout the county.

EarlyON Programs: EarlyON provides the basis for all of the early learning program supporting parents and children birth to six years. It engages families and children through regular playgroups, specialized parent and child groups, parent education, prenatal education and support, supporting access to Good Baby Box through Community Development Council (CDC), provision of enhanced support for special needs children.

Special Projects and Programming: Involvement in the community continues with the Homelessness Prevention and Food Security programs providing families with a community pantry, stocked each month and a monthly vegetable and fruit bags program from the CDC.

Click here to visit The HUB Child and Family Centre website for more information.

 

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