The United Native Friendship Centre has purchased the Calvary Tabernacle Church on Butler Avenue and will be using the property to house the “Aboriginal Head Start” program.
The UNFC took possession Friday, and is looking forward to getting everything ready to start in September.
The program is for children up to age six—with an emphasis on pre-schoolers aged three-five years—in an effort to prepare them for kindergarten.
“The program will be based on caring, creativity, and pride following from the knowledge of their traditional community beliefs, within a holistic and safe environment,” the program’s mission statement reads.
The program focuses on six central components: culture and language, education, health promotion, nutrition, social support, and parental and family involvement.
Besides a full-time co-ordinator, there also is a parent council to help run the program.
“That’s one of the main criteria—that you have strong parental involvement,” said Sheila McMahon, executive director of the UNFC.
“We believe the parents and caregivers are the child’s primary teachers. All the children will benefit when the parents and caregivers are involved in their education,” echoed program co-ordinator Charity Calder.
She said there currently are eight active members on the parent council, including seven parents and one elder. “They work with the friendship centre board as a parallel body, overseeing the whole program,” Calder explained.
Three members of the council went to a two-day training program in Toronto last month. “It was awesome. They brought back resources and experiences to share with the rest of the group,” Calder noted.
Culture and language will be an essential part of the program, she added.
“I see our parents and families as the foundation of this program, but we all stand on the culture as common ground,” she explained. “It’s about all coming together as Anishnaabe people.”
The values of love, respect, honour, humility, and truth all will be taught, and elders will play an important role in these teachings.
“We will include our elders in the day-to-day programming,” Calder said. “They have so much to offer the children.”
While this fall will mark the beginning of a full-time “Aboriginal Head Start” program here, McMahon said it used to run part-time out of Sixth Street School.
“We’ve run the program for about six years as a summer program,” she noted.
Calder was one of two co-ordinators in the 2000 summer program and said the feedback from parents was excellent.
“They all felt their children most definitely did benefit from the summer program. It was an easier transition to school,” she remarked.
Last July, the program received $260,000 in funding from Health Canada to make it a full-time one.
While the summer program was effective, Calder said a full-time one will be even more beneficial. “The difference is we will be able to focus more on a working, ongoing relationship with the families,” she explained.
But in order to run the “Aboriginal Head Start” program full-time, the UNFC needed a place to house it. They placed a bid on the Calvary Tabernacle Church in January and finalized the deal last month.
“It’s really exciting to finally get a full-time program. We’ve been trying to get a full-time program since we started the summer program,” McMahon said.
Finding the right property was important, she stressed. “You need outside space and inside space,” she noted.
McMahon said a little work will need to be done over the next few months to prepare the building. “There’s some plumbing and electrical work to be done,” she explained, including installing a children’s-size washroom upstairs.
There also will be a lounge area for visitors and a meeting room.
Calder said they will have space for two classes of 16 children. The program will run from September to June—just like the school year—and children will graduate when they turn six.
“We would also like to work with the schools to make that transition easier for the child,” Calder said.
Registration for the program will take place over the summer, and will include home visits so the parents, children, and organizers can become acquainted before the program begins.
“It is very exciting. It’s a privilege to be a part of such a great endeavour,” Calder enthused.