Solid research and close ties build better foundations for Golden’s children
“I still get goosebumps thinking about what we’ve come through,” says Karen Cathcart of her town’s five-year journey to build a 102-space child care centre. “When the going got tough— and truly it got tough—we were still able to come to the table and say, ‘No, we need to push forward,’” recalls the Golden campus manager for College of the Rockies.
For over a decade, the people of Golden had known there were gaps in the local child care offering. Home daycares were insufficient in number, preventing some parents from working or going back to school. As well, local teachers had raised flags about the readiness of kindergartners for school. Many people felt Golden needed a licensed group daycare with places for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, and that it should be staffed by trained early childhood educators. But group daycares—particularly those that support enough staff to care for babies—are notoriously difficult to get off the ground.
In Golden, “there have been a couple of stabs at it over the years, but it’s been hard to make them financially viable,” says Connie Barlow, executive director of Golden Community Resources Society. In 2011, with Trust support, local child care professionals commissioned a feasibility study to research the cost of maintaining a group child care program versus the status quo. Essentially, the study declared that a licensed quality child care facility would improve the economic and social health of the whole area, from parents to businesses to local colleges. And it promised to enrich the younger generation with stronger aptitudes for numbers and language in later school years.
The results of the study were compelling enough to inspire a number of residents to form the Early Learning and Care Stakeholder Action Group. Members included the mayor, the School District Six superintendent, the Rotary Club president and the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s regional director, as well as early childhood educators and representatives from many other local organizations.
They began with a six-month consultation, funded by Columbia Basin Trust, to create a viable business plan. Though the process cemented commitments and fostered camaraderie, it did not identify any existing buildings appropriate for the group’s purposes. Construction was the best option. The Golden Community Resources Society agreed to operate the centre and the school district offered land at Alexander Park Elementary School, proposing that the centre be constructed as an addition to the elementary school.
With Trust support, the group hired Joanne McCullough as project co-ordinator. She pursued funding opportunities and commissioned conceptual drawings that provided beautiful visions but frightening cost estimates. Although they fundraised impressive contributions from residents and organizations, it wasn’t enough.
“Then all of a sudden,” recalls Barlow, “two amazing opportunities became available to us.”
The first was an opportunity to promote Golden as a pilot site for an Early Years Centre. Golden was selected by the Government of British Columbia as one of 12 test sites in a network of Early Years Centres across the province.
The second opportunity was the timely announcement of the provincial government’s Major Capital Funding program. Under it, the group secured $500,000 to cover the capital costs required to create new licensed child care spaces.
“Wow, this was it!” says Barlow. “This was the funding that would make it possible to get the show on the road.”
Adding this money to pledges from the Columbia Valley Credit Union, Town of Golden, Rotary Club, Steve Nash Foundation and Western Financial Group, plus generous private donations, the group finally had enough to cover the preschool and group child care rooms. For the final funding needed for the infant and toddler room, the group again approached the Trust. In December 2014, the Trust provided the group with the final construction funds: $316,000 from its Social Grants program. Both Barlow and Cathcart credit hiring the right project co-ordinator for the group’s ability to stay the course over several years of discussions and to ultimately secure more than $1 million for the project. “A co-ordinator is an important person,” she explains. “Joanne became the collective heart of our project. She engaged people and was able to tell ‘our story.’”
Another smart decision, says Barlow, was devoting valuable resources to researching best practices in similar centres, eventually developing a guidebook. “Our point of view was, ‘Let’s have a common understanding of what we’re creating.’” In addition to leading to better, more efficient construction and setup periods later on, the exercise drew members closer together, says Barlow. They felt committed not only to the project, but to one another.
Cathcart looks back over the team’s journey with well-earned pride. “People have asked, ‘Why is it different now?’”—referring to Golden’s past child care efforts. “And I know the reason why it’s different this time. Because from the very get-go we made this a community effort. We had private daycares, education, local government and business and industry all pushing and working together.”