DRAYTON – “Children and youth are about one third of our population, but they’re 100 per cent of our future,” said Ron MacKinnon, executive director for the Community Resource Centre of North and Centre Wellington at the opening of a new county-operated family centre in Drayton on Jan. 29.
The County of Wellington hosted the grand opening ceremony for the new EarlyON Child and Family Centre, which officially opened its doors to the public on Jan. 30.
EarlyON Child and Family Centres in Wellington and Guelph are planned and managed by the county’s Children’s Early Years Division, with funding from the province.
“Our goal is to have accessible, high-quality services available across our service delivery area,” said Warden Kelly Linton in a press release announcing the opening.
“The first EarlyON Centre opened in Wellington North in 2018. The county plans to have at least five EarlyON Centres in various locations across the county by 2021.”
County councillor and social services committee chair Dave Anderson lauded the partnerships that made the centre possible, specifically crediting Mapleton Mayor Gregg Davidson, Children’s Early Years director Luisa Artuso and building owner Frank Wang for their parts making the new downtown Drayton location a reality.
“There’s so many partners that are involved to make this happen,” said Anderson.
The county states that EarlyON Child and Family Centres “offer a free welcoming place for all parents and caregivers with young children to spend time participating in high-quality children’s programs that support all areas of child development.”
The centres provide “a place where parents and caregivers of children have access to information, workshops and links to other resources based on their individual needs. It is also a place for families, caregivers and children to connect with others and grow together,” the release continues.
“We believe supporting families and caregivers with young children is critical,” said Artuso. “Doing so strengthens the most important relationships in a child’s life, and in turn, strengthens the child.”
Davidson noted the new centre will replace an existing satellite facility in Drayton, but satellite facilities in Alma and Moorefield will continue to offer programming one day a week.
“To have this site here six days a week to support families of our community, to have children come and play together, is just truly amazing,” said Davidson.
“I know this facility is going to be quite full,” Davidson added, noting staff have had many inquires about the new services. “I know the community has been talking about this for some time.”
Senator Rob Black, a Wellington County native, was among those attending the opening.
“I know this place was built on the principals of high quality service for the community – the fact that it’s accessible, the fact that there’s equitable access to the facility and the fact that it’s affordable – so that’s great,” said Black.
“Children and families are such a significant part of Mapleton Township and of Wellington County … and so this centre will be an important addition to the community for sure.”
Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece said the funding for the facility is part of an overall commitment to Early Years services by the province.
In 2019 and 2020 the government is spending “over $2 billion in Early Years, in child care, and this includes $141 million dollars for EarlyON programs in the province of Ontario and that means almost $2 million to the County of Wellington for EarlyON Child and Family Centres,” the MPP stated. “So our government does see the importance of this and how it affects families in our community and I do believe that this is one of those things that will help families stay here.”
Artuso said the facility will be a welcoming place for all local families.
“This is a place where all families belong, where they should feel welcome, and we deeply value every child, every family and every caregiver for who they are,” she stated.
She said the services offered will be tailored to individual needs.
“We have child development experts that are here, so if you have questions about your children’s development, we can actually do a formal assessment on your child,” said Artuso. “We can do resources and we can provide you with referrals if that’s what you see fit. If you need food on your table, if you need help with your rent and things like that, we are actually supporting the well-being of your families and we’re actually connecting children with developmental milestones in an atmosphere where they can grow.”
She added, “Early years does matter. We all think that education starts when a child hits school. It doesn’t. The most important education and child development actually happens from birth to five.”
The Mapleton EarlyON Child and Family Centre is located at 21 Wellington Street South in Drayton. It will be open a minimum of 30 hours over six days per week and will be operated by the Community Resource Centre of North and Centre Wellington.
Existing EarlyON Child and Family mobile sites in Alma and Moorefield will continue to operate with no change in services.
For more information visit: www.wellington.ca/earlyon.