BY PAUL REID
Congratulations to this wonderful program that has been providing a warm and nurturing place for local families for the past 30 years. Open to parents and caregivers of children (newborn to six years old) Family Place at Collingwood Neighbourhood House has been the place to meet others while enjoying a cup of coffee and conversation. There are arts and crafts for the children plus story time, circle time, and many fun toys to play with.
One cannot talk about Family Place and not first learn more about Satinder Singh, CNH’s family services coordinator. She has been with the program since its very beginning in 1990. Satinder loves to work with both children and their parents at Family Place. “I still have the same passion as when I first started just from seeing the excitement each day in the children’s faces.”
“Collingwood Neighbourhood House is a very special place. It is very holistic. You get to see the amazing cycle of life.” She has seen the young kids grow up and become active members of the community. “Children who I remember at five years old now volunteer as adults! And after all these years, she keep in touch with a great number of these families.”
Satinder came to Canada in 1990, from Manama City, Bahrain (close to Saudi Arabia), where she had lived for 10 years. She is from India, growing up in the city of Lucknow in the north. Satinder still returns to Lucknow frequently to visit her family there.
The city is known for its fine schools and universities. “They have famous and successful alumni all over the world.” Satinder grew up here in a school that was straight out of Harry Potter. “I remember my uniform with the knee-length socks. We were learning British English. If we spoke in anything other than English, we would get fined.”
After meeting her husband, who was an engineer working for the merchant navy, a job that enabled him to move around, Satinder and he moved to the beautiful city of Manama in Bahrain. Satinder had it very well there. She was a “woman of leisure” with nannies and housemaids.
After 10 years in Bahrain, her husband thought that it would be a good idea to move to Vancouver. This proved to be a very lucky move since the Gulf War of the 1990s was about to explode all around Bahrain.
Satinder wasn’t exactly thrilled in the beginning. Life was suddenly a bit of a struggle as her husband’s job, though eventually hugely successful, in the beginning had him earning less.
This was a massive change for Satinder; in addition to what must have been a huge culture shock, just from the highly different environment on its own, this woman of leisure now also found herself needing to find a job!
It was then, during the summer of 1990, that Satinder walked into Collingwood Neighbourhood House. At this time, it was just the little storefront on Kingsway. A woman named Laurie Winters asked Satinder if she would care to volunteer. Sure, she said.
By fall 1990, Satinder was sent to a training program and began working with the Nobody’s Perfect program and Family Place.
In the early years, these programs ran once or twice per week out of the basement of the old two room schoolhouse at Carleton Elementary (the one that would later catch fire and be taken over by Green Thumb Theatre). It was during this time that Satinder worked at CNH in the day and her early childhood education certificate at night.
It would be five years down in the basement before Family Place would move into its current cozy room at CNH, complete with couches and fireplace in CNH’s new home on Joyce street.
All this time, she has been growing with CNH and the Family Place program. She recognizes and is thankful for the help of dedicated volunteers, staff and the families that take part. “It’s a communal effort.” In 30 years, Satinder has had only three assistants – something she attributes to their outstanding dedication.
In the beginning, Satinder was mentored by CNH director Oscar Allueva. “Together we developed the program and he taught me many things,” says Satinder. “I have also been working all these years with Sharon Gregson, CNH director of the early years. She has always inspired me. Paula Carr was another huge inspiration, taking us from the small storefront to our current location.”
This is Satinder’s second home in which, through her own experiences as an immigrant, she was able to create a loving, welcoming environment for people looking for help.
“When I came to Canada, I remember feeling lonely for quite awhile, not knowing anyone. It took years to find friends that I could relate to. So I know those feelings of loneliness and isolation for those who are new here.” A large percentage of the Family Place participants have come to Canada as new immigrants.
Satinder is thankful that she can be one of the few who truly loves their work. “I don’t think I ever want to retire. I want to work here up to the time I die.”
And although things started out rough for her in Vancouver, Satinder has long since felt that she is fulfilling her destiny here in Collingwood and Family Place. “I went full circle – from a life of exclusion, to one of inclusion.”
The program runs four days per week, from 10 am to 12 noon, Monday to Friday (excluding Thursday). It is open to everyone. There is no wait list.
“Everyone is welcome to join. It’s a great place to start and make new friends in a warm and nurturing environment. The children learn social skills in addition to music and dance. The parents learn too and everyone has fun participating. People bring their relatives, people get to know each other. It’s real community development.”
Let us end by congratulating Satinder and Family Place for recently winning an award of excellence. Well done and happy 30th anniversary!
Copyright 2018 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News