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Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Expanded nursery school aims to helpyoung families to flourish

For NOTL Rotary Club, supporting parents' mental health is vital


For Rotary Club president Patricia Murenbeeld, donating to the Niagara Nursery School & Child Care Centre was about providing good care to entice young families to come to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

It's also about helping with parents' mental health as they raise newborns and enabling young mothers to pursue careers and education while raising a family.

“I really am supportive. I think women need that support all around the world in order to educate, implement and expand their careers,” Murenbeeld said in an interview Sunday.

“Women’s health and their mental health support is essential.”

Supporting parents' mental health as they go through the difficult act of balancing careers and young children was important to the Rotary Club, she said.

The Rotary Club’s donation of $20,000 enabled the nursery to open its first care room for infants. Most of the school's expansion funding came from a town debenture, but the Rotary Club's donation really helped, said the school's executive director, Candice Penny.

The new facility can accommodate 10 infants from newborn to 18 months old. The entire facility hosts up to 69 kids daily but more than 70 are enrolled due to variable scheduling.

“We did this with an aspect of mental health support because the stress on families of not having proper child care can be very great,” Murenbeeld said.

Supporting young parents was part of what she saw as rebuilding NOTL as a destination for families with children to live.

“We want to get NOTL’s name out there as a place for families that are younger and help those young families that may be new to the area,” she said.

“We’re thrilled to see the demographics of Niagara-on-the-Lake are now encompassing young families once again,” said Jeannie Manning, community service director for the Rotary Club.

“That just adds such a vibrancy to our community. We’re thrilled with that.”

Manning said having proper child care infrastructure in town validates the decisions of young families to move to the aging municipality.

Among NOTL’s population of 17,511, according to the 2016 census 10,035 residents were over the age of 50. Roughly, 2,000 were 14 years old or younger.

Manning pointed out the nursery has a wait list of more than 150 people, demonstrating the desire and need for child care in the municipality.

Rotarian Paul Lalonde agreed and said seeing the finished addition “exceeded our expectations.”

“It’s nice that Niagara-on-the-Lake finally has something to be proud of and have young families be attracted to,” he said.

“You can come and have a family and you’ll know you’ll be looked after from birth to – well, hopefully we get a high school back.”

Underscoring the importance of child care is also its accessibility for low-income families, Penny said.

“It’s important that, no matter what your financial status is, you have quality care for your child,” she said.

“I feel every child deserves that opportunity and every parent deserves to feel that their child is in a safe, caring environment that’s going to provide those essential needs.”

About 16 of the families whose children attend the nursery are receiving subsidies to help cover costs. Penny said the nursery prioritizes families who need financial assistance to help them get affordable child care quickly.

The costs for infant care at the nursery is about $250 per week. Prices get lower as the child ages, requiring less care and individual attention throughout the day, Penny said.

Murenbeeld said the Rotary Club is looking at supporting in-home childcare projects with the nursery school in the future as well.

“You can have child care without having to build buildings each time,” she said.

“You want people in home (day care) that have their CPR training, first aid, who have some child care experience and all of that is supported by a hub.”

Penny said running a nursery during a pandemic is additionally stressful for parents who worry about their children being exposed to COVID-19.

“It can add another element of anxiety for parents. Children do well, they are remarkably resilient and they adjust quickly,” Penny said.

“But for parents, it’s a little daunting because not only are you sending your child into the care of somebody you don’t know but now you’ve got the extra level of COVID on top of that.”

And although the children are resilient, Penny pointed out that nursery school is the first real social experience for some children born during the pandemic.

“A lot of children, like in our toddler program, have never been around a lot of other people because of COVID. So, they’re nervous,” she said.

“But usually, once the children are through the transition period they are fine. They stop crying once mom or dad leaves — they know that if they cry then their parents will stay longer. It’s their way of saying, ‘How dare you leave me,’ ” Penny said with a laugh.

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