EarlyON supporter Paul Bryant. VOICE PHOTO



The Fenwick EarlyOn centre, located at Fenwick United Church, is scheduled to close its doors… again. Originally slated to close last February, the centre was given a reprieve when local residents mounted a campaign to keep the facility open. They gathered some 200 signatures on a petition, and made an effective presentation to the Region’s Public Health and Social Services Committee. The reprieve was celebrated by local politicians shortly afterward, with MPP Sam Oosterhoff telling parents that the Fenwick location was “unique” and that “a solution had to be found to recognize that and maintain the service.”

An announcement late last month, however, put an end to the hopes of parents that the Fenwick centre would be spared. Family and Children’s Services (FACS) Niagara, which operates the program, has decided not to submit a proposal to the Region for the continuation of services at the location, and suggested instead that parents take their children to the Seaway Mall EarlyON location.

A letter from Darlene Edgar, Director of Niagara Region Children’s Services, dated December 11, reveals that the Region has awarded a new EarlyON program to Port CARES starting in early 2020, with a location yet to be announced in Pelham. Port CARES is a non-profit organization that has been offering early years programming for 20 years.

FACS Niagara operates six EarlyON Centres in both St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, as well as four in Welland, and one each in Lincoln, Grimsby, Thorold, Smithville, and Niagara on the Lake. EarlyON Centres across Ontario offer programs for children from birth to six years, as well as supporting services for parents and caregivers.

Offering free supervised play spaces inside and outdoors, meals, and early childhood resources, the Fenwick centre was popular with local families for its rural location, as well as the quality of the facilities and staff and the richness of the programming. A recent calendar of programs at the Fenwick centre reveals time spent on literacy, art, music, “my feelings and emotions,” even cooking and math.

During the attempt to keep the Church St. location open last year, parents objected to the driving distance to the Seaway Mall, the dangers of taking little children across the parking lot, and the mall atmosphere.

Paul Bryant, who took his grandchildren to the Fenwick EarlyON centre until they were old enough for kindergarten, has been a vocal supporter and was part of the presentation to the Region when closing was threatened last year.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of the EarlyON Children and Family Centres in the growth and development of our children,” said Bryant. “We should be opening more EarlyON Centres not closing them.”

Reached after the announcement of the latest closing, he maintains that the quality of the Fenwick centre and its staff and the value of the location don’t seem to matter to FACS, and the closing was a foregone decision by unknown bureaucrats. “When someone is so entrenched in their decision, the facts don’t matter,” Bryant said.

When asked for comment on the closing of the Fenwick centre, Adrian McKenzie, the senior manager at FACS Niagara responsible for the program, provided this statement: “FACS Niagara is continuing to focus on the sustainment of critical core services, given the current economic climate and competing priorities that we are facing. We are confident that there are a number of agencies and organizations in Niagara that are extremely well-suited to provide quality EarlyON programming to communities throughout the Region. We support the continuation of these beneficial programs, and applaud those who will continue the important work, both in Niagara and throughout the province.”

The Fenwick EarlyON centre was slated to close on Dec. 20. Last Monday, Dec. 16, Pelham Town Council approved the use of Pelham Old Town Hall as the site for a new iteration of the EarlyON service, to be undertaken by a different provider, starting in January.