Its mandate is simple but it serves an essential function.
The new I Hope Family Centre recently opened its doors at the West Vancouver Community Centre, designed to offer a space where children can play alongside their parents or caregivers for a few hours each week.
“It’s been amazing,” said Laurie Kohl, director of community and provincial programs for Family Services of the North Shore, which operates the I Hope facilities.
“Right away we had a full space on the very first day of opening and we’ve been full ever since. The word is out.”
The West Vancouver space joins other North Shore I Hope Family Centre facilities located in Maplewood and Lonsdale Quay Market.
Family Services of the North Shore has been offering its I Hope Family Centre programming and services since 1999, according to Kohl, and last year the centres served approximately 2,400 adults and 2,800 children.
“We offer a range of programs. It’s a family drop-in program where parents and caregivers can play, learn and connect with their children from birth to six years of age,” said Kohl. “It’s designed to nurture positive connections with their parents or caregivers, as well as support healthy child development.”
And while all three I Hope Family Centres offer a plethora of programs designed to get families engaging in the ancient art of child-led play, perhaps its most enticing – and important – feature is that these programs are offered free of charge to families on the North Shore.
“The philosophy is that it’s a no-barrier program to access, that it’s open to all,” said Kohl, adding that the goal is to encourage all families, including low-income ones or families that might be experiencing other additional barriers, to drop in and check it out.
“Obviously the beginning of parenting is a really stressful time and it tends to push even parents who have a lot of resources into a place of stress, and so we want to do everything we can to make it as supportive and stress-free as possible for them.”
The centre’s flagship program is called Learning Together Through Play, which involves child-led play, songs, stories and a healthy snack shared by parents or caregivers and their kids. Other I Hope Family Centre programs include the Takaya First Nations Program, Parent-Child Mother Goose and much more.
The opening of the new centre in West Vancouver, as well as the continuing ability to offer its programs and services at no-cost, are due to a number of generous sponsors and donors, noted Kohl, including the District of West Vancouver.
“We have always been committed to providing support and service to parents with young children and wanting to be able to expand what we offer to West Vancouver families. This was a great opportunity, there was a perfect match for our organization.”
While many families might drop into one of the three centres for playtime, I Hope Family Centre also has some more serious services on hand for those that want to access them, said Kohl.
“What we find is parents come in to play and connect with their children but they also come in looking for resources, information and maybe they’re struggling with some parenting issues and we just meet them wherever they are and offer all of our expertise and experience right on the spot,” she said, adding that examples could include referring a youth to a speech pathologist, if needed, or offering families access to a whole range of counselling and other family support services or parent support groups.
“It’s a portal to all sorts of other supports and services that are often required.”
The I Hope Family Centre aims to provide programs and services to promote wellness and the optimal development of children at this essential age by fostering positive interaction between child and caregiver, said Kohl, adding that all three of its centres tend to reflect the diversity of whatever part of the North Shore community they’re located in.
“What we’re doing is ensuring healthy kids for generations to come,” she said.
The I Hope Family Centre in West Vancouver will operate Monday through Friday from 9 to 11:30 a.m.
People in the community are encouraged to drop in to check out the space located in West Vancouver Community Centre during those times, or visit familyservices.bc.ca for more information or to find a full schedule of North Shore I Hope Family Centre programs and services.