A little girl sat on a bench, gently cradling a doll, while other children chattered, and adults celebrated the grand opening on Feb. 4 of an expansion to O’Leary’s CHANCES Smart Start Early Learning Centre.
Another child, standing next to Robert Henderson, calmly scrawled with a crayon as the O’Leary-Inverness MLA and provincial minister of Agriculture and Fisheries marvelled about the benefits the facility provides for area children.
For the children, the only real departure from their regular routine was the celebratory cake that followed their afternoon snack.
The expansion, which has been operational since September, has meant 17 additional early childhood learning spaces and three more staffing positions. CHANCES operates nine early learning centres and 11 before and after school programs across P.E.I. The organization opened an O’Leary centre in May 2016 replacing the former Mother Goose Day Care. Mother Goose had operated out of a basement section of the O’Leary Town Complex, but CHANCES opened in the Beechwood Professional Centre.
The new spaces are now located in the former Mother Goose Day Care area with CHANCES renting the 640 square foot area from the Town of O’Leary.
Mayor Eric Gavin was in attendance for the grand opening and said there were no second guesses when CHANCES approached council about the space.
“We knew it was a great idea,” he said, adding that the town could provide more space if needed.
Krista Gallant, director of the O’Leary centre, said it took close to a year for all 43 spaces at the Beechwood Centre to fill up and now all 17 spaces in the town complex are filled too.
There are already names on a waiting list.
That’s 60 spaces in all, but Gallant said the number of children being accommodated is closer to 17 as some are attending part-time. All 17 new spaces are fulltime. “There’s always demand with working parents today looking for quality childcare for their children,” said Ron Herbert, treasurer of CHANCES’ Board of Directors. “The demand is definitely there.”
Gavin is pleased with the early learning opportunities the centre provides the children, and with the employment the centre creates.
There are 22 people employed at the two locations, 19 fulltime equivalents.
Henderson recalled the initial meetings to bring CHANCS to O’Leary and remarked how pleased he is that the spaces are all filled. “There’s probably nothing (Mayor) Eric and I will ever do in our community that will have as big of an impact on our future as what we’re doing here at CHANCES,” he reflected.
“When all these children go through the program, hopefully they will be far more advanced when they go into the school system, kindergarten, and they will excel even better in the secondary school system. “Who knows, one day these people will be adults and they’re going to have a good education and they may bring some new great innovative concept to O’Leary and we grow again from there.” CHANCES executive director Ann Robertson, noted the focus is on the children. ” They’re set on a path, a trajectory, for success in life.”
Gallant agreed. “They’re why we do this every day.”