(From left) Gillian Wells (Family Place), Heather More (chair, Valley Community Services), Justine Keirn (executive director, VHS), Vicky Koenig (Family Place), Tania Wiklund (VHS program manager), Nancy DeVuono (vice-chair, VHS), Korri Maloney (Family Place) and Sally Lieputri (Family Place) celebrated the opening of Family Place Neighbourhood House at the Creston Education Centre last week. (Photo submitted)

Family Place transitions to “Neighborhood House”

Since the Town of Creston rallied to save the Creston Education Centre by purchasing the former South Creston Elementary School last year, renovations have made some programs even more successful.

Valley Community Services runs numerous pre-school and family programs at CEC, and has rebranded its facility as Family Place Neighbourhood House. At a grand opening event on April 2, VCS executive director Justine Keirn explained:

“Today we are here to celebrate the official opening of Family Place Neighbourhood House,” she said. “We are one of three Neighbourhood Houses to open outside of the lower mainland. The first in Castlegar and the second and third in Creston and Nelson. We would like to thank the Alexandra Foundation and the Creston-Kootenay Foundation for their financial contributions that made the recent, very successful, kitchen renovation possible. We would like to thank the Mayor and Town Council, Regional District of Central Kootenay Directors of Electoral Areas A, B and C, parents and community members for their combined efforts to support and maintain the programs and services located in the Creston Education Centre. We had only dreamed that such a fantastic space, designed to provide Early Years programs, would be possible.”

Since 1891, (20 years after BC became the 6th province to join Canada) what’s known today as the Association of Neighbourhood Houses of BC operated in Metro Vancouver as a hospital, an orphanage, and a fresh-air camp before focusing on community-based neighbourhood houses that welcome and offer programs and services to everyone, regardless of background.

The Association of Neighbourhood Houses of BC is part of a neighbourhood and settlement house movement that began in 19th century England. As rural residents migrated to cities in search of work and immigrants fled persecution in continental Europe, they left behind their families, communities and everything that was familiar to them. The neighbourhood and settlement house movement – starting with the establishment of Toynbee Hall in London in the mid-1880s – recognized a need for public recreation programs, day nurseries for working parents (the city’s first), English as a second language and adult literacy classes, and a new profession called social work.

Today, neighbourhood houses are hubs for community development activities, programs and services that address and adapt to local needs; there are thousands of neighbourhood houses in more than 30 countries around the world.

ANHBC initially began as Alexandra Neighbourhood House, a women’s and children’s hospital that opened its doors in 1891 in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. Three years later, the hospital was converted to an orphanage and officially incorporated as the Alexandra Community Activities Society. Alexandra Society was one of the first charitable societies in B.C., and ultimately became the ANHBC.

“The hard work, support and tenacity of all those involved in advocating for the continued operation of this Early Years Centre opening today as Family Place Neighbourhood House has preserved the model of co-located service for families in Creston,” Keirn said. “This model, built through collaboration over the past 13 years is the reason Early Years supports and services in Creston have been so successful. These programs serve upward of 150 families per year and we often host more than 300 children and adults at our special celebration events. “Many hundreds of hours have gone into ensuring this facility remains a community asset, and for this we are grateful. These combined efforts will preserve this asset for future generations, strengthening our community and attracting new residents.”

Keirn also outlined the benefits of what she described as “co-located programming”:

“In addition to programs that encourage social interaction and give families a place to get to know one another, referrals are easily made to other programs that provide supports for families and the healthy development of their young children. The programs that comprise what is known as Family Place include; Little Chefs – part of the Community Action Program for Children funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, Pregnancy Outreach, the Family Resource Program and Infant Development Program funded by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Growing Healthy Families, funded by Columbia Basin Trust, Muffins and More, funded by Interior Health and Strong Start, funded by School District 8. In addition, Gleaners provides support to these programs by donating funds to purchase food.

“Other services in this location funded by the Ministry of Children and Family Development and delivered by School District 8 include speech/language supports, physical therapy and occupational therapy. The co-location of these programs with other Early Intervention supports facilitates referrals and increases the effectiveness of all programming. In addition, the School District also delivers the Homelinks at this Centre.

“The advantage of these combined programs is a healthier, happier community. We would like to extend our gratitude to everyone who made it possible for them to continue. Please help me welcome our very own Family Place Neighbourhood House to Creston.”

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