Abinoojii Gamig Childcare and Family Centre opens its doors

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer
Pictured here is three-and-a-half-year-old Bryce Martin enjoying his oranges and cereal during snack time at the new Abinoojii Gamig Childcare and Family Centre. The facility opened its doors earlier this week, and will house several UNFC programs geared to families. – Merna Emara photo

On Monday the new Abinoojii Gamig Family Centre opened in their new location on 821 McIrvine Rd. This new facility will house the Zaagi’idiwin Headstart Program, Prenatal Nutrition Program, CAP-C (Family Support) Program and Healthy Babies and the Healthy Children Program.

Sheila McMahon, executive director at the United Native Friendship Centre (UNFC), said they will not be having their grand opening just yet due to COVID-19 restrictions. Despite not being able to celebrate, Sheila said she is happy to see this project come to fruition amidst a pandemic.

The construction process has taken 18 months from when they first dug up ground in August 2018. Although this project was funded by the Ministry of Education, the UNFC had to apply through the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board.

Sheila said former Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne provided the funding for Indigenous-led childcare programs across the province.

The UNFC received $2.8 million and it cost about $3.5 million to build the facility. Sheila said the $700,000 deficit came out of the UNFC.

Sheila said this building is not just an extension of the Headstart program that was running out of 308 Butler Ave. She said they have obtained licensing to have an infant and a toddler daycare.

The UNFC is licensed to have 24 children for the headstart program, 15 toddlers and 9 infants for the daycares.

“It’s been on our radar for a number of years,” Sheila said. “We did a survey with our clients and parents in our programs about what the needs are in our community for children aged zero to six and they said childcare.”

Sheila said the UNFC had been studying and surveying what the community needs for five years prior to putting a shovel in the ground.

“We wanted to support the parents that were going to school and provide childcare for them so they didn’t have to worry about that when they were getting their education,” Sheila said. “We want to support parents that were making minimum wage, because childcare is very expensive in this community so we wanted to look at different ways where we could support the community.”

Richard Bruyere, president of the UNFC, said this new childcare and family centre is a big plus for the Indigenous community especially for parents who cannot afford daycare.

“We’re excited about it and we’re so thankful for all the hard work that Sheila put into it and with Saulteaux Consulting & Engineering and Veldhuisen Construction Inc.,” Bruyere said. “All we really had to do is select the site.”

Sheila said she also is happy to have good staff, whose work also contributed to the success of the project.

“I can’t say enough for our staff, because when we were moving they worked very hard and were very excited to get into a new facility,” Sheila said. “They’re amazing to work with. They’re excellent with the families, they treat the families with respect. You can’t find any better people in this community.”

Standing from left to right is UNFC executive director Sheila McMahon, president Richard Bruyere and Early Learning Programs lead Charity McMahon. They were on hand, along with other staff members, to welcome children to the new building. – Merna Emara photo

Charity McMahon, Early Learning Programs lead, said although they are licensed to have 24 children in the headstart program, they are only allowing 14 due to COVID-19 capacity limit.

“I kept the numbers at 14 and our funders are more than supportive with that,” Charity said. “I plan on operating at max capacity at 24 in September, given that our community is safe with case numbers.”

Sheila said they are still in the process of hiring early childhood educators.

“You can’t open the rooms until you have staff to open them,” Sheila said.