Barry Gerding/Black Press Jennilee Greig at one of the three Kelowna centres for her Thrive childcare program.

Kelowna woman finds way to help more kids thrive

Canada-wide aspirations for unique childcare initiative

Jennilee Greig couldn’t find her dream job, so she decided to make one for herself.

Greig is the woman behind an after-school and summer camp program titled Thrive, a childcare initiative she started a decade ago bringing together her passion for working with children in a fun, learning environment.

“It’s my dream, my career I’ve created, and I’m loving it,” said Greig.

Ten years ago, she started operating her program out of The Bridge church on Gordon Drive with three kids and an idea to create a program that combined creating a welcoming family environment, that explored faith and spirituality in a safe and positive way, while exposing kids to what nature has to offer.

Greig tries to encourage kids to thrive in a safe and supervised atmosphere, to help instill in them confidence and knowledge about who they are and their skills and abilities.

Today, Thrive has added two additional centres in Glenmore, with an enrolment of 40 children at each centre between Kindergarten to Grade 5 age levels. Her goal is to see the program expand across Canada and reach 300,000 kids.

“My vision may be big but that’s actually a small percentage of the childcare sector across Canada. For me it’s about kids growing and learning, being positively mentored, exercising and learning about nature. I want to get children out in nature every day rather than being stuck inside a gym,” she said.

Her first expansion led her to Enderby, where a Thrive program partnered with the Enderby Chapel that has enrolled 20 young participants. Another is planned for Salt Spring Island and she has fielded inquiries about expanding into West Kelowna.

She says Thrive currently reaches about 450 kids annually in Kelowna between the after-school and summer camp programs.

The church aspect has been a key strategy to help Thrive become established, both partnering with churches interested in hosting outreach programs into their community and to hire the staff required to meet a ratio of one childcare educator for every eight kids.

“Our partnership with churches has been important because it reduces our overhead costs for a building to operate from and there is a faith aspect to our program. It allows us to funnel more of our resources into staff and financial assistance for parents,” she said. “We have not had to turn away a child yet because of financial issues.”

The faith aspect doesn’t make Thrive exclusive only to Christian families, but allow kids to explore on their own terms and the terms of their family environment.

She said Thrive is awaiting confirmation shortly that her program will be granted charity status, allowing them to receive corporate donations while requiring to re-invest up to 86 per cent of the revenue back into the program. “It raises more opportunity to subsidize more childcare and do other value-added things to enhance the program.”

Related: Advocate says universal child care long overdue in B.C.

Greig grew up in Salmon Arm and was inspired by his first working childcare stint with the Shuswap Kids Club, calling that program a pioneer for creating exciting opportunities for youngsters.

“Over the years others started up knock-offs of what (Shuswap Kids Club) has done but I still think they are one of the best at what they are doing,” she said.

When Greig moved to Kelowna 12 years ago, she was looking to recreate that working experience, but was left disappointed.

“I worked at three different programs within a short time and was horrified. I quit one after three weeks. I was bored to tears and the kids were bored to tears. It pushed me to create an environment for school-aged after-school care that I wanted to be part of,” Greig said.

“I felt if I wasn’t bored, that would translate to the kids. I wanted them in tears when it came time to leave, not when they would arrive.”

Related: Kelowna kids living in poverty

She believes the Thrive concept is unique in Kelowna, saying while some programs offer activities on a limited basis, for Greig and her staff it is a daily routine, learning about themselves with nature as a giant classroom to help build leadership, self esteem and self empowerment learning skills.

She cites Thrive’s junior leadership program, which enables participants when they reach age 9 to carry out tasks that allow them to be junior leaders.

“For our kids, it’s a countdown to their ninth birthday so they can work to become junior leaders. They learn about being leaders for their peer group and that the world is bigger than them, that no everything is about them.”

That process is enabled both by activities and responsibilities they rise to meet along with carrying out random acts of kindness throughout the community.

Greig said while the perception is the childcare program crisis 10 years ago in Kelowna has relaxed somewhat, waiting lists still exist for most programs due to shortage of space and affordability.

She said the province has committed to continuing to invest more in B.C.’s childcare sector, to raise wages for child care educators and create more spaces.

“The impact of that investment hasn’t been felt yet. But figuring out a way to create more spaces and subsidize fees will create another issue by widening access to after-school care for parents who might not have been able previously to afford it, so you are potentially absorbing that many more children into the system.”

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