By Heather Killen
The demand for Family Matters programs and playgroups in Annapolis County is growing faster than its budget.
Family Matters Resource Centre is a nonprofit group dedicated to developing, coordinating, and delivering programs, services, and support in Annapolis County for children aged zero to six.
Wendy Knowlton, executive director, says that while the new demand for Family Matters programs is encouraging in some respects, the funding that pays for the services is not growing along with it and now the group is looking to the community for additional help.
“Since 2007 we have increased our family participation every single year,” she said in an article last month. “That year, we had 3,050 visits to our programs. This past year, we had 9,432 visits to our programs. In an area that is dealing with the out-migration of our youth, that is quite substantial.”
While the amount of programs and services they provide is increasing, the amount of funding they receive to run those programs and services has remained fairly consistent over the years.
“With all the cut backs that are happening with government funding, we are very happy to receive support at all,” she said. “That does not, however, help us with the gap between funding and the current cost of running programs. The staff here at the centre all put our hearts and souls in each and every thing we do because they are all important to the community.”
While still fairly new, the Circle of Friends playgroup in Cornwallis is an example of a program on the grow. Billie Jo Weir and Kerri MacAulay co-facilitate this free program that started with two families and quickly expanded to 12. The playgroup meets Thursday mornings at the Clark Rutherford School.
This group offers structured and informal activities for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. In addition to being introduced to new games, songs, stories, and toys, children have an opportunity to meet and interact with their peers.
Janet Leblanc has been bringing her son Nathan, 12 months, to the playgroup that she describes as a “godsend.” Nathan, being an only child, has rare opportunities to play with other children at home, she says.
“He can come here and experience new activities and see other kids,” she said. “At home it’s just the two of us, but here he can learn from his peers. It’s fantastic, the skills he learns here are completely different from what I can teach him at home.”
She added that there aren’t many young families in their neighbourhood and if not for the playgroup, they wouldn’t have many chances to socialize with others. Sometimes Nathan can find friends at the school playground, but accessing this is weather-dependent and mainly determined around the school’s schedule.
Quality children’s resources are scarce in Annapolis County and aside from the activities organized by the Annapolis Valley Regional Library there isn’t a great deal of opportunity for free, or low-cost playtime activities for young families, according to the moms at the playgroup.
Amy Robinson and her son, Spencer, travel to the playgroup each week and she says that it’s good to see the playroom full, there were times that it was just the two of them. The playgroup offers new toys and activities to stimulate children.
“We always try to come,” she said. “This is a chance for him to get out and meet other children. It’s good practice for him to learn how to play with younger children.”
Emily Allen and Atati, 4, have been coming to the playgroup since January and love the convenience of having the program in their community.
“There are always new things to do,” said Allen. “A lot of care goes into this program. They put a lot of thought into what the children would like and it’s always dynamic.”
For more information on how to help Family Matters Resource Centre, visit www.family-matters.ca; or contact them by phone at 584-2210.