ESTEVAN - A day before opening its doors to the public, the new Estevan Early Years Family Resource Centre (EEYFRC) held an official ceremony, marking the beginning of a new era for Estevan families.
The ribbon was cut on Monday in the presence of the board members, representatives of the South East Cornerstone Public School Division (SECPSD), the City of Estevan, Estevan Chamber of Commerce, United Way Estevan and community leaders working with children.
The expansion of the previous Estevan Family Resource Centre and the following move to a new permanent location at the Estevan Comprehensive School became possible after last April, when the Government of Saskatchewan announced funding through the Canada-Saskatchewan early learning and childcare agreement for the creation of a new early years family resource centre in Estevan to offer a range of drop-in and scheduled programming for all families with young children aged zero to five.
Michelle Walsh, who is a long-standing family centre board member and also a part of the community planning centre, opened the ceremony, thanking everyone for coming and for years of consistent support, which allowed the original Estevan Family Resource Centre (EFRC) to keep going.
"As a current United Way member agency, we have received support from this community for many years to be able to offer our programs and services. We want to give a special thanks to everyone for their support, including our numerous grants and donations from the local business community. We'd not be where we are today without that continued support and support in the past.
“And a huge thank you to our new provincial funding from the minister of education and our new partnership. We've been able to move into this new space. And this funding will lead to stability with our programming and our local services within this community," Walsh said.
Susan Colbow said a few words on behalf of Estevan MLA and Saskatchewan Minister of Social Services Lori Carr, as well as on behalf of Minister of Education Dustin Duncan, who were unable to make it to the ceremony.
"Early years family resource centres across Saskatchewan are contributing to positive brain development and the building blocks necessary for children to succeed in the classrooms. They're also providing parents of preschool-aged children with a wide variety of government and community-based supports and services at a single location, a single welcoming space where they could go to easily access reliable supports, services, programs and information to assist them in raising and educating their little ones," Colbow said.
She added that even during the pandemic, the centres kept supporting their patrons through all means available.
"Our government recognizes the importance of investing in opportunities to provide families with positive early learning experiences to grow their parenting knowledge. Through the Canada-Saskatchewan early learning and childcare agreement, we have contributed over $980,000 towards the establishment of the centers,” said Colbow.
“So if you're a parent of a young child who needs resources to help support your child's development in the early years family resource centre is here to help you. If you need information about how to support a child's development or have questions about how to access services for your child, then the centre will help.
“And if you're looking for opportunities to enhance your child's physical, social, emotional or language skills, then look no further than an early family resource centre. This new centre will offer those supports and much more," Colbow added.
Walsh noted that the EEYFRC's goals remain to maintain the community-based facility that is accessible and all-inclusive to young families, link families to existing community programs and resources, to collaborate and co-ordinate the ongoing development of more programming that meets the needs of family and children, and to enhance playful positive interaction and growth between parents and children in a safe space. The newly established community planning table will be helping guide the EEYFRC in the four pillars of the early years family resource centres, as set out by the Ministry of Education in Saskatchewan.
Jacquie Gibbs, co-ordinator of early learning with SECPSD, has been working with the family centre to help with transitioning into the new space and helping them to meet those four pillars.
"When we took a stroll through many, many months ago, before the renovation had have taken place, I just couldn't imagine what this space could become. And it's just so bright and welcoming now. I want to extend a thank you to South East Cornerstone facilities and technology teams for their attention to detail," Gibbs said. "We are really well poised to turn this centre into that one-stop-shop for families."
The current outgoing executive director of the centre Jennifer Dunn was unable to be at the ceremony. She will soon be relocating from the community, and Sara Saigeon said a few words as the centre's incoming executive director.
"This month has been very exciting, watching everything moved from the old centre to the new centre, unpacking this new centre. It really feels very welcoming. And I'm really excited for the public to be able to come and see this new centre starting February 1. Thank you to everyone who helped us with the move and getting ready for this day," Saigeon said.
The new EEYFRC has many zones for different types of children's play and development. There is a special trough sink for the early water exploration, adjustable chairs and tables for different activities, an organized kitchen, where kids can have a snack, a smart board for programming, a library and much more. The drop-in and play area is thought through and split into separate zones, where patrons of different ages can indulge in various more or less intense activities.
"If grocery shopping is your passion in life, you can grocery shop. There is construction zones, as well as some bigger play structures," noted Melanie Young, instructional coach for early learning with SECPSD. "And there are things for gross motor development as well.
“We also have a visiting office. So if there's another professional coming in, they can meet with the family in there. There are also some different things that the family centre gives out, like diapers, formula and things like that … There is a range of toys.
“Some things are made for our little friends that come to visit and some obviously are for much bigger kids. And the little walkway area in between has an opportunity for some building. So there are some blocks as well as magnetic blocks and foam and things like that. And there's a train station as well as a little library and puzzle space."
The funding provided by the provincial and federal governments focuses on children ages zero-five, but the Estevan family centre has traditionally been supporting families with kids of all ages, and they plan on continuing with that using other funding.
For now, the EEYFRC will be open during weekdays, but they are currently hiring more staff and are communicating with the North Battleford family centre to potentially bring in evening and weekend program offerings. Gibbs also underlined that the provincial-federal funding is what will allow them to have the stability in the operation and have the needed personnel to expand their hours on regular basis, which wasn't possible before.
The EEYFRC is located at the ECS on the southwest corner. The entrance is labelled Entrance 10.