The beginning of this story goes way back to 2013, when I had a 2-yr-old and a realization that I wasn’t able to find childcare that would enable me to return to work as a teacher. I tried to organize some friends and fellow mums into a “baby sharing co-op”, but it was a quick flop. One of these friends suggested I take my idea to a new community-minded entrepreneurship program that was being offered in Sechelt through a partnership between Community Futures and Simon Fraser University. For some reason, I decided that 3 months of night-time business school at “Ignite” was a good idea, and my childcare co-op concept took shape. Rapidly, it turned into a non-profit daycare called Huckleberry, that was going to connect a community of parents and offer care for families with unusual schedules. At the Ignite “barn raising” event where we pitched our business models to the community, Huckleberry was a crowd pleaser. I found a woman who wanted to work with me, and the Ministry of Children and Family Development released some major dollars for creation of new daycare spaces. Things were exciting and dreams were big!
That summer of 2013 was wild. We wrote a huge grant application, tried to buy a house with the government grant before the money was confirmed, failed to get the grant and of course never closed the real estate deal. But it was close. I remember having silver sandals, only 1 child, and spending a lot of time talking intensely about childcare and early years educators and daycare space requirements, all while digging in the sand at a park or building elaborate Brio train tracks. Less than 6 months after the Ignite Program ended, I had a non-profit childcare society, more than $10,000 of organizational debt, no employees, no daycare space and no connected families. But, I still had my dream.
Luckily, my involvement in the Gibsons Arts Building was a tangible and important part of my Coast community as an artist, a teacher and as a mother. I had come to love the sunny openness of the little building on the rise over Gibsons Marina. My son enjoyed Little Hands art classes, I relished teaching local kids in afterschool art classes, and I graduated from working as the all-purpose office administrator to being on the Arts Building board of directors. Then, a fellow director asked me if Huckleberry had a space. I had been featured in the paper and sort of became known in town as “the daycare lady”. She knew I was trying to do something good, so she suggested the Arts Building could share. We went to the board together, and outlined how childcare and a wee arts centre with a big heart could coexist. They agreed. I figured out how we had to upgrade the space to meet casual licensing requirements, a treasured ECE maven came out of retirement to care for the nascent 3 day/week Huckleberry, and we scampered into being. Huckleberry had a space, one employee, children in attendance, and a big financial debt, but our dream was flying. It was 2014.
Fast forward through another licensing required renovation, (this time with a baby on my back, and a kindergartner helping to haul around new sinks and flooring) several successful local grants, 2 lovely employees at once, a budding garden and a fence courtesy of Gibsons Rotary and then we hit another rough patch. There was an unfortunate cascade of employees leaving for greener pastures … and Huckleberry almost ground to a halt. We limped through 2017 with partial opening hours, a reduced client base and not much hope. Years of hard work and tears and glee meant my Huckleberry nerves were pretty frayed, but somehow it all kept going. We had a solid 2018 and finally my own child, the baby on my back, who had helped install a sink backsplash by sleeping in the Ergo carrier, was enrolled as a Huckleberry kid. It only took five years!
Hiring Shelly in the summer of 2019 was like finding a winning lottery ticket and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. She spoke my language of “kids need to play and get creative”. I interviewed her over Skype and couldn’t believe that our lead ECE, someone I had never met in person, was going to arrive in September with a moving van from eastern Canada and take over the daycare a week later. What if she wasn’t a good fit? What if she didn’t show up? She is, she clearly did, and I loved her warmth and energy and good vibes, just as all the kids have come to too. Huckleberry has blossomed with Shelly at the helm and all the assistance of parent volunteers and board members who stepped up to help steer what was my little, fragile boat of dreams. Huckleberry Coast Childcare Society is not mine anymore, but it will always be a dream I turned, with the encouragement and effort of many others, into reality.
– Bronwen Payerle, Founding Director, Mother & Dreamer
Huckleberry Childcare operates 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM Monday – Thursday , September to June.