The pitter patter of little feet in Belmont secondary isn’t just coming from the Grade 9 students anymore.
REACH young parent and child centre, in the school’s Neighbourhood Learning Centre, opened its doors to little ones for the first time on Jan. 4.
While the accredited centre operated on the old Belmont property for over 20 years, only now is it housed in the same building as the high school.
“It provided a lot of learning experiences,” especially while the old Belmont building was being torn down, said REACH co-ordinator Sandra Quesnelle, the new facilities offers a lot more opportunities. REACH stands for respectful relationships, education, advocacy, child development and healthy choices.
The centre previously offered only an infant/toddler program for children aged newborn to three years, but now accepts children in the three to five age group. It is licensed to accept eight children under three and will be operating at full capacity by the end of the month.
The ability to take infants has been an advantage for parents who need care, as most daycare facilities will not accept children under a year old, Quesnelle said.
In the older group, she’s seen a few children return who had aged out of the toddler program. The centre is licensed for 16 spaces for kids aged three to five, and as of this week had room for 11 more.
While priority is given to young parents, the daycare also accepts applications from other members of the community when space is available. She noted the centre also supports young parents with different programs to help them adapt to their new responsibilities.
As a designated young parents centre, such applicants must meet a number of criteria. They must have had their first child before age 20, be currently working on finishing their high school education, and be enrolled within School District 62.
If a young parent meets these criteria and more, Quesnelle said, they are then eligible for subsidized childcare from the provincial government. However, that subsidy does not quite cover all of the daycare fees, which is where the Pacific Centre Family Services Association steps in. They absorb the difference so young parents need not worry about finding the extra cash.
“They think it’s very important to keep the program going,” Quesnelle said, adding that people using the daycare don’t have to be attending Belmont and with the expanded programs, the daycare centre is now operating 12 months of the year, instead of just 10.
“Twenty years ago all we had was Belmont,” said Mitzi Dean, executive director for the Association, which operates REACH. “This model is much more preferred … It destigmatizes access to services for young parents and allows them more access to services earlier on.”
Dean and many others representing different groups have been discussing collaboration within the NLC, the school and the surrounding community since plans to replace the old Belmont were announced. She noted that additional funding has been secured to help see that collaboration happen and they are “looking to build a community within the community.”
“Collaboration between agencies is the best way to promote services … If people access services earlier, they’re more likely to be successful,” Dean said. “When you’re in the same building, it can break down some of the external barriers.”
REACH is the largest part of the NLC, which takes up about 15 per cent of the high school’s footprint.
Dean hopes the successful partnership with School District 62 and the province will continue and lead to exciting new opportunities.
Some teachers have already approached the centre with ideas on how to get the student body involved in learning more about child development and care, for those interested in pursuing careers in those fields.
“The collaboration with the school district and ministry has really improved over the past four or five years,” Dean said. “We need more services.”
The centre accepts applications for its two daycare programs on an ongoing basis and has a wait list set up for spaces in the newborn to age three program.
Financial contributions are also being accepted from the community to help finish the outdoor play structures.
For more information on how to help, contact Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone, 250-478-8357.