The Hope Learning Centre to open January 2020

Krysta Reed

Sounder News

Wednesday, August 21 2019

A new building at the HOPE Centre is due for completion by January 2020. The HOPE Learning Centre, a one-level, 4000 square foot building, will offer a new infant-toddler childcare program and pre-school program. A $500,000 grant from the Ministry of Children and Family Development has made this project possible.

Alice Verstraete, Executive Director of the HOPE Centre, originally came to Gabriola as a missionary with her husband Gerrit. 

Verstraete said, “The HOPE Centre was my vision back in 2002 and we started at its current location in 2004, to demonstrate God’s love to the community, by opening the centre and to support families in loving their children also.”

For the past fifteen years, the HOPE Centre has been offering childcare for 2 ½ to 5 years old and programs such as Rug Huggers, Mother Goose, the Teen Program and after-school care. 

Known as the big blue building on the corner of North Road and Tin Can Alley, the HOPE House and its neighbour, the HOPE Multi-Purpose Building, have been cornerstones in the community as resource centres for children, youth and adults. HOPE stands for “Hands On Prevention and Education.” 

Verstraete said, “I’ve been doing this as a volunteer. I have a real heart and passion for children.

“I want to provide the best for children on Gabriola.”

In recent years, childcare spaces have been full. The need for childcare has increased, with more and more babies being born on the island.

Verstraete said, “Last year, there were twenty-five babies born on the island.

“We’re building to accommodate 16 spaces for infant-toddler, 0 to 2 ½ years old. We’ve never had licensed infant-toddler spaces on the island.”

The new HOPE Learning Centre will offer three licensed programs: 16 spaces for infant-toddler care (0 to 2 ½ years old), 16 spaces for childcare (2 ½ to 5 years old) and a preschool program (2 ½ to 5 years old). Childcare will be offered from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and the preschool will run for three hours, Monday to Friday. 

With the opening of the new building on the horizon, more staff will be needed.

Verstraete said, “Every year we [do] a survey for the needs of the community. With staff based on numbers.

“The challenge is trying to find staffing for all these services. We have reached out to people getting their ECE certification and ECE Assistant certification.”

There are three categories that Verstraete looks at for staffing: A responsible adult – certification is not required; ECE Assistant – a person is only required to complete one course; ECE certification – a two-year program and certification required.

Verstraete said, “We need ECE certification for each program in the new building.”

The new building will provide small group settings for the programs, with eight children in each room for the infant-toddler program and a balanced number of children per caregiver.

Verstraete said, “If there are over 16 children, licensing only requires us to have two people, but I bring in a third person because the kids deserve to have more attention and one-on-one.”

The programming is growing at the HOPE Centre and so is the commitment to giving the best care possible to children on the island.

Over the next five years, a newly established, five-member Board, will take over the operations of the HOPE Centre, so that Verstraete and her husband Gerrit can retire. The Gabriola HOPE Centre Society, registered as not-for-profit, will continue to provide the best care to island children and youth, keeping Verstraete’s vision a reality.

Verstraete said, “The hope and desire of the HOPE Centre will be continued over the next couple of years. 

“At this stage it is the operation of the HOPE Centre. We are not transferring the assets.

“We are doing it gradually. We have developed a great relationship with the Ministry and Province; we want to make sure it gets transferred in a proper way.”