Charlene Gray (second from left) along with fellow educators and students. The educator on the far right is Keosha Girard - a Comox Valley Child Day Care Society alumnus who now teaches at the CVCDCS and her children attend. Photo supplied

Charlene Gray (second from left) along with fellow educators and students. The educator on the far right is Keosha Girard - a Comox Valley Child Day Care Society alumnus who now teaches at the CVCDCS and her children attend. Photo supplied

Comox Valley Children’s Day Care Society celebrates 50 years of service

It’s likely one of the most subdued 50th-anniversary celebrations ever.

Thanks, COVID.

The Comox Valley Children’s Day Care Society (CVCDCS) turned 50 years old in 2020, but most of the celebratory events were either postponed or cancelled outright due to the pandemic.

“Oh my gosh – we were supposed to have a big pancake breakfast with Santa; we had a big reunion party planned, with past board members, and past children invited, and that was put on hold, so it’s been rather quiet,” said senior manager Charlene Gray. “It’s been so disappointing because we did have such great plans. But I guess the best way to celebrate our 50 years is to show our resilience during the pandemic.”

Celebrations aside, as the oldest daycare in the Comox Valley, the CVCDCS is an invaluable asset to the community.

The CVCDCS has four programs. For the three-to-five-year-olds there are Tigger Too Preschool, Tigger Too Early Learning Center, and Lighthouse Early Learning Center. The Tigger Too Toddler Center is for children aged 11 months to three years old.

Gray said the demand for child care is overwhelming.

“When the programs are all full, we can have up to 200 families,” said senior manager Charlene Gray. “In a non-COVID situation, we usually run at 95-100 per cent capacity. We have 300 people on the waitlist right now for child care. And especially for children under the age of three, you just can’t find space for them.”

When the CVCDCS first started, the industry was unregulated.

“Back then there were no regulations, so the society was sort of the overseer of dayhomes – what they called them then – so right from the beginning we were not really regulating, but certainly monitoring and supporting the dayhomes,” said Gray, touching on some of the changes the industry has seen in the past 50 years. “Now there are a lot of different regulatory bodies, but at the time, there really wasn’t. We are our own entity now… we aren’t the overseer of anything now, other than our own programs.”

The CVCDCS has been a trailblazer in the child care industry within the Comox Valley for as long as Gray can remember.

“We were also the first to bring in therapists for children with extra support needs, so they could be integrated into centres,” she said. “Now we have the Child Development Association, but back then there wasn’t such a service.”

Gray said the vision of the founders set the stage for the sustainability of the society.

“They were real visionaries,” she said. “From the start, our staff has had vacation pay, and sick pay, and all those things long before any other centre did. So they had a value that they placed on the educator.”

Of all the changes and developments in the past five decades, Gray said the pilot project testing $10 a day child care, of which Tigger Too Learning is a prototype, stands out as a game-changer.

RELATED: Comox child care centre among $10 a day prototypes

“That was everything,” said Gray. “All of those families pay no more than $200 a month, when normally, for say preschool, it’s $1,020. So that has been enormous. Absolutely enormous.”

That project will conclude in March 2021, at which time its effectiveness will be studied.

“I know they will be expanding it. What that means at this point, I don’t know. But I do know that the NDP’s 10-year plan is to have universal child care for $10 a day for everyone.”

As a non-profit society, the CVCDCS relies on fundraising efforts to bridge the gap of costs above those covered by fees.

“We do charge parent fees – we have to pay our staff – but in order to meet the needs of our children, we have to sell chocolate bars; we have to do fundraising… it should be publicly funded, just like grade school is, but that’s not the case,” said Gray. “And we get incredible community support. Just last night I was at Canadian Tire and we got all this free hand sanitizer. So there is amazing support. The Comox Valley Community Foundation has been incredible over the years, supporting us.”

Gray said if there is one positive to take out of the pandemic, it’s that it has shone a positive light on the importance and professionalism of daycare.

“People have a new understanding and respect for us – they quickly got to understand the need for child care, and how essential it is, when we had to close,” she said. “But that change has been happening over the years. Where it used to be ‘here, take care of my kids’ now it is recognized as an actual profession, which it is. People are realizing we are an important part of their child’s development.”
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In the early days: The Comox Valley Children’s Day Care Society was formed in 1970, with the opening of Merry Andrew Daycare Centre, in the basement of St. George’s United Church. Photo supplied

In the early days: The Comox Valley Children’s Day Care Society was formed in 1970, with the opening of Merry Andrew Daycare Centre, in the basement of St. George’s United Church. Photo supplied

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