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The Children’s Centre will host a 50th anniversary celebration tonight at Bally Haly in St. John’s

Children at The Children’s Centre in St. John’s dressed up for their own 50th anniversary celebration Thursday. They took part in a mini gala similar to the one that will be held at Bally Haly tonight to honour its half-century of operation. Children who took part in the Thursday event included (front, from left) Reese Martin, Owen Riddick, Taylor Hedges, Hannah Conway, Lauren Bennett, Oliver Bennett and Cameron Sheppard and (back, from left) Ophelia Smith, Grayson Ennis, Natalie Davis, Rose Crocker and Morgan Bayne.
Children at The Children’s Centre in St. John’s dressed up for their own 50th anniversary celebration Thursday. They took part in a mini gala similar to the one that will be held at Bally Haly tonight to honour its half-century of operation. Children who took part in the Thursday event included (front, from left) Reese Martin, Owen Riddick, Taylor Hedges, Hannah Conway, Lauren Bennett, Oliver Bennett and Cameron Sheppard and (back, from left) Ophelia Smith, Grayson Ennis, Natalie Davis, Rose Crocker and Morgan Bayne. - Sam McNeish

‘We are pretty proud of what we have here’

The children were all dressed in gowns, shirts and ties.

The occasion?

They were capping off their 50 Days of Fun at The Children’s Centre on Craigmillar Avenue as part of the centre’s 50th-anniversary celebrations that will culminate with a gala event at Bally Haly tonight at 6 p.m.

“Marking 50 years, this gala will be a huge event,” Katie O'Brien, director of The Children's Centre, said Thursday.

“There will be a silent auction, St. John’s city councillor Jamie Korab will conduct a live auction, and there is going to be live entertainment.’’

In addition, O’Brien said donations from the families and local businesses continue to make the centre possible.

“They all pulled through for us,” she said.

Started by five stay-at-home moms in the basement of the Cochrane Street United Church, The Children’s Centre opened its doors in 1968 — and has been around as long as Sesame Street.

The mothers were determined to open a centre where preschoolers would be exposed to art, music, storytelling and listening, and be introduced to words and numbers.

With this planning foundation, they settled their location in a basement space in Cochrane Street Church, which is where they put their plan into action and first opened the centre.

While The Children’s Centre has grown and expanded over the years, it has stayed true to its roots of being a play-based preschool committed to providing quality and affordable child care. Thousands of children have walked through the centre’s doors over the years and gone on to play important roles in the community.

It is currently located on Craigmillar Avenue, but there have been several homes over the years.

In its infancy, it was known as the Preschool Centre Association for the first five years and operated from a number of different locations, including portable classrooms, church basements and private homes.

In 1984, the centre moved to a house at 40 Golf Ave., where it held operations for 26 years. As The Children’s Centre was blossoming with a growing number of precious preschoolers, in 2010 it moved to its current location at 80 Craigmillar Ave., below St. Mary the Virgin Church.

The centre facilitates a play-based curriculum that promotes the emotional health, learning, creativity and physical development of children.
The skilled and professional staff are part of a network of support with families and the wider community to foster self-confidence, independence, kindness and empowerment in children.

“We are pretty proud of what we have here. We offer a great service,’’ O’Brien said.

“It shows the non-profit model still works, because we are still around.’’

The uniqueness of the centre and how it operates — parent run — makes it unique, as the parents are board members while their children attend the centre. Thus the makeup of the board of directors is always fluid … and the talents each individual brings to the operation varies.

“It changes every two or three years as the children come in and then move on. Once they do, most parents depart as well, but some stay on longer as members of the board,’’ O’Brien said.
“That keeps it fresh here as each parent brings a different skill set.’’

There are 42 children at the centre on any given day and a long waiting list of those wanting to get in, with 79 families registered for a position.

Children are split into three categories: toddler, two years; full-day preschool for 3-5 years; and half-day preschool for 3-5 years.
The half-day sessions go both in the morning and afternoon and are aimed at socialization for children with special needs.

“We think this is pretty special for a non-profit, parent-run preschool in our city,” board member Karyn Whelan said.

“My kids attend the school and I have to say it’s a pretty special place.”

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