Thirty-six new childcare spaces will be opening later this year in Chilliwack thanks to more than $1 million in funding from the provincial government.
The new daycare for children up to age five is the first one for Unique Get Together Society and it will be an “accessible” and “inclusive” facility, said society founder and CEO Debra Abraham.
“It’s very accessible, very inclusive,” she said. “It’s about bringing every child together.”
Unique Get Together Society is a B.C.-based, non-profit organization that provides services for Indigenous, marginalized and underserved communities. They have offices in Vancouver, Chilliwack and Kamloops.
The society applied for funding in November 2021 and found out on April 4 they received a $1.2-million provincial grant. The centre will have space for 12 children in the infant/toddler program (under 36 months old), and 24 kids aged three to five years old.
Minister of State for Childcare, Katrina Chen, was in Chilliwack on Tuesday, April 12 for the project announcement which took place inside an older house on First Avenue near Broadway Street that will be transformed into the childcare centre.
“They want to include a lot of inclusive services for various families with diverse backgrounds and needs, so this is a really great project,” Chen said.
It’s one of the first “state-of-the-art, 21st century” childcare centres in the province that will incorporate yoga and daily meditation with the kids, plus welcome elders and grandparents as part of the program, Abraham said.
“I think it’s great. It’s part of our new childcare plan that we’re moving towards,” said Chilliwack MLA Dan Coulter.
The NDP provincial government has a 10-year plan in place to bring $10-a-day childcare to B.C. and to add 22,000 new spaces.
The 1.5-storey house was built in 1954, according to BC Property Assessment, and it will be completely renovated. Plans include building an addition to the house, knocking down walls to open up space on the main floor, adding wheelchair ramp and wheelchair-accessible shower, and installing an outdoor play area and garden.
“It’s a huge investment for accessibility here. Another sensory room… our community needs it,” said Chilliwack-Kent MLA Kelli Paddon.
She’s referring to an additional service that will be located on the second floor of the house. A sensory room – with items like sensory toys, mats and lighting – will be accessible not just to the kids at the childcare centre, but to the general public as well. It will be open to people of all ages and will have a separate entrance from the childcare space.
Unique Get Together Society opened its Chilliwack office two years ago inside Pacific Autism Family Network. About 90 per cent of their clientele here are Indigenous families and about 75 per cent of those have special needs, many of whom are on the autism spectrum.
They currently serve about 300 families in Chilliwack and work closely with Stó:lō Nation’s early childhood development centre. Unique Get Together Society also feeds 500 people in Chilliwack every week through its food hamper delivery program which just launched in Chilliwack two weeks ago.
They realized soon after opening their Chilliwack office two years ago how great the need is for accessible childcare.
Dr. Baldeep Toor – a maternity doctor based in Surrey and Langley – owns the house and the society signed a 15-year lease with him at an affordable price, said Marina Garmon, child and youth program manager with Unique.
Priority will be given to children with special needs, but Abraham said that any child that registers can get access. Children will develop coping skills through meditation, benefit from nature that’s brought into everyday learning, and will learn skills they can to use to calm themselves.
“All of our programs are all-inclusive. Kids learn best from other children. If you put all kids together, they don’t know the difference of each others abilities,” Abraham said.
Having the combination of children with different abilities teaches empathy and problem-solving skills to all kids, added Kelsey McGregor, director of Unique Get Together Society.
The society is training its own early childhood educators through a partnership with Vancouver Career College, so when the centre is ready to open, they will be fully staffed.
It will also be visibly inclusive from the outside as the colour scheme will include the colours of all four races, Abraham noted.
“Because we’re so diverse and inclusive, we want to represent the community as a whole. I think that’s really important, especially in Chilliwack,” she said. “We want everyone to know this is a safe, inclusive space for your child to be in.”
The centre will be called Whole Child Childcare Mind Body and Spirit and the expected completion date is September of this year.