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Local daycare centre celebrating milestone

TRURO - When she walked through the doors, Jan Sommers felt at home at Near to Me Daycare.

Sarah Hazelton, left, director of Near to Me Daycare, and Jan Sommers, board chairperson, sit and read a book with some of the children that attend the centre on a daily basis. The centre is celebrating 25 years this week.

While searching for a daycare centre for her children, Sommers and her husband, Ryan, weren't long to settle on the Willow Street daycare, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this week.

"I didn't want it to feel like an institution," said Sommers, who is the current chairperson of the daycare centre's board. "It took us a couple of months to decide, but this felt like home. I think parents do take a long time sometimes in choosing."

With two boys already attending the centre, it might not be long for the couple's youngest - a four-month-old daughter - to find a place there.

One of the attractions to the Sommers family is the daycare centre's affiliation with the Colchester East Hants Health Authority, where both work.

"We were given priority here, which was great," said Sommers.

It was 25 years ago when three unions - the Nova Scotia Nurses Union, CUPE and then Unifor - saw a need for such a daycare and approached the health authority to create one.

"Many of us at that time were all having children," said Janet Hazelton, one of the founding members of the centre. "At that time, my daughter was two. When you have young children and are working in the health field, one of the challenges is shiftwork and it's very difficult to find daycare, period."

The health authority still owns the building the centre currently operates out of, and Hazelton said parents and volunteers did a lot of the renovations themselves, such as painting.

"One of the successes for the centre is that it is the cooperation between everyone," she said, explaining the chairperson would rotate between the unions and the employer. "It was a combined effort."

At present, Hazelton's sister-in-law, Sarah Hazelton, is the director of the facility.

She says to remain open for 25 years is huge.

"I think we are fortunate in some ways, because there aren't a lot of not-for-profits that are around for 20 or more years," Sarah Hazelton said. "That's a testament to our non-profit status. The families are all involved in some way."

With a local centre closing its two facilities just last year, Sommers said it's a "real accomplishment" when one makes it to the 25-year mark.

"I think child care centres are underfunded, and child care is expensive as it is," she said.

The director said part of the success of the centre comes from its low staff turnover.

"It's a high work environment with stress," she said. "It's a demanding job. All of our staff members have at least seven or eight years experience."

The centre includes as much play-based activities as possible, giving those children a sense of significance and that they matter, says Sommers.

"Primarily, it's about sorting out their interests, interacting with others and building confidence," she added. "It sets them off on the right foot."

To celebrate their anniversary the centre is hosting a party for its children and families on Friday.

There will be cake, games, hats and even treat bags for kids.

Twitter: @TDNRaissa


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