The new wooden furniture in the infant room is pretty tiny, but just the right size for the youngest little ones being cared for by Niagara Nursery School staff.
This would not have been possible before the expansion of the nursery school and child care centre, which could not previously accept infants. Or without the help of a generous community, including a $20,000 donation from the Niagara-on-the-Lake Rotary Club. That donation was directed to furniture and equipment for the nursery school’s youngest charges, with the new space named the NOTL Rotary Club Infant Room.
The expansion has given the facility a large, bright, welcoming space divided into several rooms, one which opened up 10 spaces for infants, another for 15 toddlers in their own room, as well as space for 24 preschoolers, and 20 school-age children for before and after care. Previously, the centre was licensed for 39 children, says executive director Candice Penny, and has been increased to accommodate 69.
The nursery school’s waiting list for child care has been whittled down from 200 to 170, but the list continues to grow, says Penny, and leaves a lot of parents seeking day care for their children, especially for infants, a situation that exists across the Niagara Region.
She recalls putting her son’s name on a list when she was pregnant, and he was two years old before she was offered a space for him.
When the province’s community-based capital projects grants came around, “we did not hesitate to submit our application. It was our opportunity to address the growing needs in our community,” says Penny. “When we heard we were one of the recipients of the grant we knew this was our opportunity to help do our part in providing much-needed care spaces. We are so grateful to have been able to increase our capacity from 39 to 69 children.”
The Rotary donation has contributed to the furniture and toys in the infant room, says Penny, meaning the nursery school campaign funds could be spent on other necessities.
The nursery school board continues to be active participants in conversations regarding the care needs in the community, she says, “and will continue to do all that we can to help ensure that all children and families are given equal opportunities to access affordable, high-quality early childhood education and care. Should any further opportunities present themselves to allow us to do more, we will always do what we can to help.”
The nursery school has raised $77,718 in its expansion campaign, and is still hoping to raise the remaining $22,282 to get to their target of $100,000. To help them reach their goal, go to https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/niagara-nursery-school-expansion-fund/
Patricia Murenbeeld, president of the NOTL Rotary, says the donation to the infant room, knowing it would be available and equipped for young ones, is something the club wanted to do for the sake of mental health for parents in the community. Not being able to find child care is stressful for families, she says.
Rotary also wants to do more to help young families in the community, she adds, and decided helping out the nursery school is one way toward accomplishing their goal.
Murenbeeld has three daughters, and is looking forward to the April arrival of her first grandson, so the need to support young mothers by helping to provide child care spaces, not just in NOTL but across the province, is something that is on her mind, she says.
Adam Stewart, past president of the NNS board, now has his youngest in the infant room, which wouldn’t have been possible without the expansion.
“We are so extremely fortunate and thankful to belong to a town that has an exceptional school like NNS,” he says. “With the new infant program being the only licensed infant care program in NOTL, we know and trust that our youngest child is being given the individual attention she deserves, all while being nurtured and cared for. The highly trained and talented teachers not only cater to our daughter’s individual schedule but they do so in a way that it feels like an extension of home.”
The infant room is fully equipped with cribs, black-out blinds and a beautiful outdoor dedicated play area under the shade of the memorial tree, adds Stewart. “The infant care program is an amazing and much-needed service which caters to the changing demographic of NOTL.”
Current president Amanda Mirabella was at the nursery school Sunday morning for the Rotary cheque presentation, and to say thanks to the Rotary Club for their donation. She has a son, Luca, in the preschool class, and is new to the child care centre since the start of COVID. When Luca began, he was at the other side of the building, in the former space occupied by the facility. “I had to drop him off at the gate and run,” she says, due to COVID protocols. “I felt very disconnected. Now I can have a conversation with the staff, ask about his day, see his artwork on the walls.”
The difference of feeling more a part of his day isn’t about changes to COVID restrictions, she says, but because having three rooms provides more space and allows more opportunities for distancing.
Rotary member Paul Lalonde took a little tour of the school Sunday, and was impressed with what he saw. “It sure is a nice facility,” says the father of three teens. “The fact that NOTL has such a great space for young families, is so vital to the community. If my kids were younger, I’d love for them to be here.”
“I’m so proud Rotary is so diverse, including helping young families in the community,” says Rotary member Jolanta Janny Kudlats.
Rotarian Jeannie Manning adds the club is helping those in need across the region, including supporting a community garden in Fort Erie, established by Links for Greener Learning, based out of St. Catharines. “The project helps new immigrants to Canada, people of all ages, helping them to grow, harvest and prepare food,” says Manning.
Rotary Club members also volunteer for a St. Catharines breakfast program, with a team preparing breakfast for more than 100 people the second Tuesday of every month. St. George’s Anglican Church on Church Street has been serving breakfast for almost 25 years, 365 days a year, says Manning.
The club also donated backpacks and school supplies to the Niagara Regional Native Centre, to be distributed to children from Kindergarten up to university, and has raised $33,000 for polio eradication in the two remaining countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the disease still exists.
“We’re helping out with our international and local efforts,” says Manning.
Without last season’s Rotary Holiday House Tour, the club’s main fundraiser, revenue from one year has had to be spread out over two years, while still committed to supporting the causes the club has taken on in the past as best they can, says Murenbeeld.
This year’s holiday tour, Dec. 3 and 4, is set to go ahead, with seven homes, one added to help spread out crowds and keep people safely apart, along with reduced ticket sales, and reduced hours. Proof of vaccination is required, and all COVID protocols will be followed.
The tour has been approved by the town, says Murenbeeld, and will go ahead unless there are changes to current pandemic restrictions. “What we really need is volunteers,” she added, with more people needed at each site to help handle the COVID and vaccination screening.