Once a preschool, Family Ties New Carlisle now serves an entire anglophone community in Gaspé
Community organization is CBC Quebec's charity of the year
During the month of December, CBC Quebec will be working with Family Ties New Carlisle to showcase stories of people in our community who are making a difference for our "Make the Season Kind" campaign. For more stories and to learn more about this campaign, visit cbc.ca/bekindqc and make a donation here.
How it all started
Back in 1995, local community groups in the New Carlisle area began to notice a higher drop-out rate among English-speaking students in the community and grew concerned that children were starting school unprepared. In an effort to fix that, the CLSC launched a nine-month pilot project dubbed the Munchkin Mansion Playschool.
"It created a gathering place for families, so it was like a collective daycare," said Heather MacWhirter, executive director of Family Ties New Carlisle. "There was no exchange of money but an exchange of time. In order for your child to come, and it still operates this way today, you had to donate a half a morning a week."
That project was so successful that the program gained further funding and families began requesting even more activities for a variety of ages and backgrounds. A year later, Family Ties New Carlisle was officially founded.
The centre now offers everything from prenatal courses to a preschool, adult education and activities for seniors in the area, though the programs had to be adapted to fit public health regulations amid the pandemic. Some activities are now offered over Zoom, while others have been adjusted to accommodate smaller groups of people.
The centre also offers a food security program and cooking courses, along with emergency food baskets and a community garden.
"Then we have others like our integration into the workplace programs, the library and community internet access centre," MacWhirter said.
In all, about 170 families benefit from its services every year, which means some 445 people use the centre.
Who benefits from the centre?
According to MacWhirter, the centre's usual clientele is a "mishmash" of everyone.
"This year, we're going to miss our annual Christmas dinner, but if you would attend the Christmas dinner […] you'd see families there, you'd see volunteers serving dinner and the co-ordinators holding babies for families and the youth serving seniors tea and everybody just mingling and, you know, that's what Family Ties is," said MacWhirter.
Carolyn Taylor, project co-ordinator at Family Ties, found a sense of belonging at the centre when she first immigrated to the Gaspé region from England 16 years ago.
"I had my first child in England and I was used to going to the parents and toddler groups and then I came here and I was desperately searching for something like that so I think that local parents are very very grateful to have that," said Taylor.
She added that, since the pandemic started, Family Ties has also given parents a place to go so that they don't feel as isolated.
"The important thing at Family Ties is that we want everyone to feel part of the family," she said.
With files from CBC Quebec's Breakaway and Quebec AM