ESTEVAN - A newly expanded Early Years Family Resource Centre is to open at the Estevan Comprehensive School (ECS) in January.
Last April, 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, and now these plans are coming to fruition.
The South East Cornerstone Public School Division (SECPSD) approached the existing Estevan Family Resource Centre after the announcement, and they agreed on a merger for the two projects.
"The decision to partner with the existing Estevan Family Resource Centre was an easy one. The community of Estevan has a long history of support that is quite visible in the current space, and in the programming, and in the volunteers and employees that have worked so hard to make it a success. It just made sense that we not reinvent the wheel," said Jacquie Gibbs, co-ordinator of early learning with SECPSD.
Jennifer Dunne, executive director and program co-ordinator with the Estevan Family Resource Centre, said the previous executive director Colleen MacMillan was the "backbone" of working with the government and trying to get some funding. And when SECPSD reached out to them, they were really excited.
"It's a win-win situation, we're going to get a fantastic new centre, and we're going to have some funding from the government. We still get to continue working as the entity that we are right now. And it's really a bonus to be moving over there," Dunne said.
The new space, which is in the southwest part of ECS and was previously occupied by Southeast College, will be about the same size as what the family centre has now, but the new partnership will allow them to increase the program offering and expand the hours of operation.
"(There are) economic benefits of creating a partnership. With this additional funding from the federal and provincial governments and the move to an existing SECPSD building, we will be able to shift our dollars directly into programs and staffing. And, at South East Cornerstone, we've already been able to add programming and services to the current facility with our SEC ECIP and SEC Regional KidsFirst staff members taking active roles in programming and committing to weekly support at the centre," said Gibbs.
The new programs were added to the existing EFRC's offering this fall. And the upcoming move to the new space will open even more opportunities.
"We're hoping to expand. It's going to take us a little while just to get established in the new centre and to get things up and running. But our plans are to try and open more hours, open on the weekend … just so that we can get a whole new group of people who might not be able to come and use the facility because they work during the week," added Dunne.
Gibbs also said that they'll be hiring more people to expand the centre's offering.
Getting government support is a big relief for a non-profit organization. Dunne said Estevan has been awesome supporting them through the years, and they'll probably still do some fundraising down the road, but to have more stability in their operation will be great.
"It'll be easier. It does take a little bit of pressure off. But fundraising is still a huge part of our centre for two reasons. One, I think it's great for the community to support what we're doing. And also, whenever we fundraise, all our fundraising money always goes towards programming to keep them free," Dunne said. "We're really excited. It just gives us a chance to give even more back to the community."
Once the renovations are complete, the renewed family resource centre will invite their patrons over. The plans for new programming are not finalized yet, and they are being done based on the research and guidance from the Ministry of Education.
"In this new project, South East Cornerstone is responsible for leading a community planning team that is currently developing the new centre with guidance from the Ministry of Education," said Gibbs. "The ministry has done considerable work, to be able to provide a framework for the early years family resource centres across the province, so in creating our new centre we have some really good guidelines that our community planning table is digging into. For example, our new centre will have a renewed focus on access to information and professionals and greater access to support groups where parents can share their experiences with others."
The aim is for the new Estevan Early Years Family Resource Centre to be a one-stop shop, supporting families of young children in Estevan and surrounding communities.
Renovations are to be completed soon, and in the meantime, they are preparing for the move and planning to improve and augment the many services that are already being provided by the current Estevan Family Resource Centre. Ultimately, they are planning to open the doors to their newly renovated space in January 2022.
Once the dates and details are finalized, they will be announced through media and social media.