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Whistler Children’s Centre loses leader and friend

Executive director Marion Hardy says goodbye to Whistler after 12 years It drives Marion Hardy crazy when people refer to her life’s work as babysitting.
marion_hardy
Marion Hardy

Executive director Marion Hardy says goodbye to Whistler after 12 years

It drives Marion Hardy crazy when people refer to her life’s work as babysitting.

"I really, really hope that there will come a day when people will stop referring to early childcare educators as babysitters," said Hardy reflecting on the 12 years she has spent developing early childcare in Whistler and the Sea to Sky corridor.

Hardy leaves at the end of this month to take up a new position as executive director of the Cariboo Childcare Society, a non-profit society operating out of the University College of the Cariboo campus in Kamloops.

"We are highly trained people and the people who care for children do such an incredible job," she said.

"(Child care educators) do a great job and they deserve, at the very least, a great deal of respect."

The director of Childcare Services for the Whistler Children’s Centre and the new Spring Creek Children’s Centre, Hardy has spent most of her life working to create a safe and nurturing environment for children. A place where babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers can learn, feel safe and be loved.

"The research being done shows that the more stimulation, the more quality programs that children are exposed to in the early years the more likely it is for the child to be a well-rounded child in the school system," said Hardy.

Not afraid to think outside the box Hardy has tried numerous programs to meet the demands of a changing Whistler over the last 12 years.

In the early years the group daycare program was aimed at kids whose parents simply wanted them to attend a stimulating program.

"The majority of the parents wanted the children in the daycare program for socialization, not because mom and dad or both had to work.

"Maybe five to 10 per cent of children who attended daycare when I first came here were there because either mom and dad, or both, had to work, or because they were single parents."

But as Whistler began to grow so did the needs of the community. More and more people came here to work and more and more people needed quality childcare for their kids.

Hardy and the board of directors of the Dandelion Daycare Society were always reassessing what needed to be offered.

"We have had to be a little bit more flexible," said Hardy.

"I think we have had to strategize a little bit differently."

Hardy recalled that when the Marmot program first started it was run as a licensed daycare for four hours a day for 16 kids.

"That was all it was ever meant to be," said Hardy.

Meanwhile, the Periwinkles program, which offered all-day care, had a wait list as long as your arm.

"We had to make a decision to close the Marmot program as a pre school and open it as a daycare program," said Hardy.

The following year, 1996, strategizing by the board brought a new realization – moms and dads with babies needed help.

It was decided to hand over the after-school program to Parks and Recreation and offer infant care.

Of all the programs offered it is the infant care option that Hardy is most proud of.

A mother herself, she understands the unspoken guilt that every parent feels when they hand over their often-wailing, precious baby to someone else, walk out the door and go to work.

Rarely does a parent feel it’s worth it just to get a paycheque. But bills have to be paid and babies have to be fed and clothed and loved.

"I know it is really difficult," said Hardy.

"It is something we work with parents on… The bond we form with the parents is so important especially in the infant program because there is so much guilt. No mater how old your children are there is that guilt."

There is no doubt that children respond to Hardy.

As she walks into the Daisies’ room at Spring Creek the babies stumble like newborn giraffes toward her as fast as possible.

She touches and calls to each by name. They grin their gummy smiles then fall into Hardy’s lap as she sits down for a cuddle.

Her arms have rocked a thousand crying babies and her words have soothed the conscience of a thousand working parents.

"She always has time for the children," said Marion Anderson, president of the Dandelion Daycare Society from 1992 to 1994.

"I’ve never gone into that centre and seen her too busy for either the people that work with her, the board member, the child or the parents. She is always there for others so it is a huge loss for the community."

Anderson said Hardy epitomizes all that the Whistler Children’s Centre was and has become.

"Marion is the Whistler Children’s Centre," she said.

"Not every child that goes through the Whistler Children’s Centre is a typical child. There are problems and Marion has been a resource to every single parent group that has gone through that centre.

"Her contribution has been, apart from raising $1.3 million single-handedly, having a significant impact on childcare programs locally and provincially.

"She is very highly thought of provincially and has brought Whistler to the light provincially because of her leadership of that centre and her understanding of the early childhood education program.

"She had been instrumental in trying to get the colleges to address the reality of what it is like for daycare workers once they come out of theory and into the practical."

Hardy has made many friends in the community and savours every run-in with a parent who relates the accomplishments of a daycare graduate now graduating from high school.

"I am just really proud to be able to say that I have worked in such a community," said Hardy almost breaking a promise she made to herself not to cry as she recalls all the challenges and achievements of the years.

Hardy has tried weekend programs, even home-style daycare to meet the needs of the community.

Some ideas have worked and others have not.

"If it doesn’t work it doesn’t work but at least we can say we tried it," said Hardy.

"It has been a constant juggle to meet the needs of people and adapt to the changes.

"We realize that we will never be able to meet everyone’s needs. I know the flexible hours, the longer days, the earlier drop-offs, the late pick-ups; we have just never been able to do that.

"I know there have been a lot of frustrated families over the years because we just couldn’t help everyone, but we have tried."

Today, said Hardy, 95 per cent of the parents who use childcare are working parents.

"Whistler has changed significantly over the years and so have the needs of families," said Hardy who also sits on an employer’s association, the B.C. Association of Childcare Services.

Change also means growth. The Dandelion Daycare centre opened in 1985 but it was soon realized that more space was needed.

So work and planning began on a new child care facility and in 1991 the Whistler Children’s Centre was built right next to the Dandelion Daycare.

Tomorrow (May 18) at noon the Spring Creek Children’s Centre officially opens with a ribbon cutting, and the all-important snacks and face painting.

"When we opened the building on Nesters Road in 1991 (Marion) was already saying that we needed a second daycare," said Sharon Iles, president of the board of directors for the Dandelion Daycare Society.

"She was already talking to the municipality and other partners. She has really contributed a ton."

Expansion brings obvious challenges: Getting money and getting staff.

Hardy said getting and keeping qualified staff is a never-ending quest.

Many who come here are young and often find the struggle to pay for and live in a small resort is just too much.

Financing is also a continuous occupation. Over the years, said Hardy, the community has dug deep again and again, from mayor and council, to Intrawest, to the Whistler-Blackcomb Foundation. And of course there are the many volunteers for the non-profit Dandelion Daycare Society, which was founded in 1983.

"I think that is one of the gifts that the community has given to the children: its support," said Hardy.

Getting money from outside sources has been more of a problem as many think of Whistler as home to the super-rich and in no need of financial support.

"It’s been really frustrating trying to explain that we need new facilities, we need the infant toddler care and we have the numbers to prove it," she said.

"But they say, ‘you don’t need (help) because you are a rich community.’ That just makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up."

Money will continue to be a challenge, especially as childcare educators await government announcements on funding.

"What I would love to see in this province is that all parents have access to programs such as ours," said Hardy.

"It shouldn’t just be limited to those parents who can afford it.

"Every child deserves to attend a quality program and every parent deserves to be able to send their child, regardless of their financial background."

Hardy’s new position will put her in the forefront of the next generation of early childcare educators and she hopes the government will at least maintain services so her students can help mould another generation of kids.

She will also be directing the care of community children, and those of the staff and students of the Kamloops college.

Travelling with her will be her husband Simon, who is taking early retirement from the North Vancouver Fire Department where he ran the arson-dog program. Her stepdaughter Jessica is at university in England and her son David works at Millar Creek Café.

Said Hardy: "I feel incredibly lucky to have had these 12 years here and to have seen the growth here and to just have watched the place turn into an incredible, community."

Anyone wishing to say farewell to Hardy is welcome at the Whistler Children’s Centre Friday, May 24 between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.