By Mark Dreger
The Westbank First Nation celebrated their official opening and provincial recognition of the WFN Early Years Centre with an open house on Friday at the new Youth Centre.
“Westbank First Nation is proud to receive recognition as a Provincial Early Years Centre,” Westbank First Nation Chief Roxanne Lindley said. “Our younger members are the future of our nation, and council is committed to expanding the programs and services available for our babies, parents, and children.”
The $5.5 million centre will help grow the already successful community services, with over 100 children and adults taking part in the programs they provide. The After School Care Program has already reached capacity with a waitlist for more.
The centre, which formerly offered programs and services at the WFN Health and Wellness Building, is now located on the top floor of the new WFN Youth Centre.
“Our vision for the future is to have a facility that houses all of our early years programs and services in a culturally safe environment, including daycare and preschool, as well as a space to provide ancillary services on site,” said Early Years Services manager Margaret Eli. “Moving to our new location is an exciting step toward fulfilling that vision.”
The Capital News spoke with Eli after the event.
“We’re being provincially recognized for something we’ve been doing for many years as an integrated service,” Eli said, “and especially with our children and families, so it’s a way to grow, it’s a way to be recognized, and it’s a way for the bigger community to buy into First Nations programs and be welcome to our land.”
Eli says that the programs will give First Nation students “a much better start than they’ve ever had” in their education, with programs such as the After School Care Program, the Infant Development Program, and the Supported Child Development for children with special needs.
“We’re addressing the needs before they go to school,” she said. “So if a child say has a speech difficulty, then they can get the services right up there so that by the time they enter school they won’t have it or it will be lessened.”
“It’s exciting to be able to see that children with special needs can get they’re services here,” Eli said.
WFN has operated early years programs for over 30 years, but recently received provincial recognition in summer 2016.
The Early Years Centre runs programs that include “family programming, supported child infant development, after school programs, and spring and summer camps” designed for infants, young children, and whole families. The Centre’s programs are run by eight full-time employees, one permanent part-time employee, one casual employee, four summer students, and four childcare providers. The programs focus on education, language, culture, and family involvement to name a few.
“Without the children we would not be a community,” Eli told the attendees of the event. “We would not have a future. And we do have a future and it’s a bright future.”