Hundreds of local children have passed through the doors of Queens Avenue Daycare in the past four decades, but that legacy is coming to an end.
The non-profit daycare, operated by the Queens Avenue Daycare Society, opened in a rented basement space in Queens Avenue United Church in 1971 and was incorporated as a non-profit in 1973. In the years since, hundreds – possibly thousands – of youngsters have attended the daycare.
“Finding a spot at Queens Avenue Daycare was the best thing that ever happened to my family after moving to New Westminster,” said New West resident Naomi Perks, a former president of the Queens Avenue Daycare Society. “It wasn’t the flashiest of locations, but they had something better: a child-centric environment with staff that truly cared about the kids and their families.”
Stephanie Erdelyi started working at the centre in 1993, before becoming its director in 1999.
“As a non-profit society, what we have always valued is offering the highest quality of care at the most affordable price for families. That’s always been our mission statement,” she says. “Families are always at the heart or the centre of our care.”
Former board member JJ Lee was saddened to learn Queens Avenue Daycare is closing June 24.
"News of Queens Avenue Daycare closing makes me think of what our family would have been like without them. My sons, who are now 18, attended the daycare between the ages of three and five years old. The early childhood educators, led by Stephanie Erdeyli, had a profound and positive effect on my children,” he says. “Not only did we know they were safe, stimulated, and brought into a larger community family, they were also loved by the caregivers. QADC was a special place – they brought together the kindest of people to look out for children.”
The health and safety of the children at Queens Avenue Daycare has always been paramount.
“Parents knew that when they left their children there, they would always be safe,” Erdelyi says. “The thing that I always used to say to families is, ‘I want you to be able to do whatever you have to do during your day, whether you have to go to work, school, whatever you have to do. You can think about your child all day long and can’t wait to see them at the end of the day, but you are not going to worry about them.’ There’s a big difference.”
As the centre prepares to close its doors for good on June 24, it’s hearing from many of its former families. And what are they saying?
“‘Thank you,’” Erdelyi says. “We are getting lots and lots of emails. People are sort of in disbelief that Queens Avenue won’t be in the community of New Westminster anymore. They’re very grateful that they had the opportunity to have their children there and they have really special memories of being there, and they’re very, very sad that Queens Avenue won’t be there anymore.”
Erdelyi says many folks have a connection to Queens Avenue Daycare long after they leave.
“We have had children come back with their own children. We still have grandmas and moms of kids that are in their 20s now that still bring us supplies and come to see us at holiday times, just to say hi. We have had kids that have worked for us that went to Queens Avenue when they were younger,” she says. “It’s just this beautiful sense of community and relationship-building that’s been formed there.”
Kate Barber was four, when she attended Queens Avenue Daycare in 1997/1998. She later volunteered at the centre and eventually worked at QADC.
“I returned to QADC because of the support and love I was provided as a child,” she said. “I have always felt welcome at QADC, and in many ways it has felt like a home to me. I have returned many times to visit and as soon as I walk in the door, I feel welcome, as if I had always been there.”
Barber said Queens Avenue Daycare is a place where many people feel safe, happy, cared for – and always welcome.
“In my eyes, Queens Avenue Daycare is and has been an incredibly important part of New Westminster's community. It is where so many children learned how to be kind, caring and how to grow up to be a positive and contributing member of our community,” she said. “When I found out that QADC was closing, I felt a profound sadness in my heart. I do feel that New Westminster is losing one of its most valuable child care facilities in the closing of QADC.”
Alissa Foss, secretary of the society’s board, said that sense of community is one of the most special aspects of Queens Avenue Daycare.
“It’s not just a you-drop-your-child-off-for-the day kind of scenario. You are invested in all the pieces,” she says. “There are programs where parents bring snacks, they get shared. Everyone kind of participates.”
Foss can’t say enough about the staff who’ve cared for her two kids through the years.
“It means the word to a parent because you know that you can leave your children and you don’t have to worry how they are being taken care of,” she says. “You know it’s top-notch care. You can’t always find that everywhere.”
Foss says QADC staff recognized that each child and each family is unique and has different needs – and responded accordingly. She says Erdelyi is “one of a kind” and goes above and beyond to help families access resources to support their children.
Foss says Queens Avenue Daycare has made a “huge and invaluable” contribution to the community.
“It is very much a community of people who really care. Especially the staff. They are truly amazing,” she says. “I am going to miss it.”
Barb Wilkins agrees.
"It is a devastating loss to the New West community,” says Wilkins, a former QADC director. “In an era where more and more corporate chain daycare centres are opening, a non-profit like Queens Avenue has stood out as a beacon of quality childcare.”
Why is it closing?
A proposed redevelopment of the church site was the “catalyst” to led to the QADC board’s decision to close the daycare but, ultimately, a number of issues factored into the board’s decision, Foss says.
Last summer, the United Property Resource Corporation approached the City of New Westminster with plans for retaining Queens Avenue United Church and building a 12-storey residential building on a portion of the site. City council discouraged the applicant from pursuing that particular plan, but the proposal created some uncertainty about the daycare’s future in the building.
“We looked really hard to try to find a new location – we thought ‘we need to figure this out and see what our options are,’ and finding a space that would work was really hard. There was no space that came available that we could find or brokers we had reached out to could find,” Foss says. “Also, it would take quite a bit of capital to move to a new space and do that. That would be our second hurdle if we were going to go there.”
Because the Queens Avenue Daycare Society is parent-based, the board makeup changes as families come and go. That’s great for family involvement, but it’s not so great for a board needing to work on long-term plans related to the daycare’s future, Foss says.
While Queens Avenue Daycare has been fortunate to have had many staff who’ve worked at the centre for 20 or more years, Foss says there’s been increasing staff turnover in recent times.
Ultimately, uncertainty about the current location, the ability to find a new location and staffing challenges led the board to make the tough decision to close the daycare.
“We were in a very limbo state, which is not a comfortable place for parents, and especially for the staff working for Queens Ave,” Foss says.
The church had offered the daycare a lease extension until June 2023, but the board decided it was in the best interest of staff and families to close when its existing lease expires.
“The last few years have been really hard to run a not-for-profit daycare,” Foss says. “I know that this is the right decision. It is an extremely hard decision. But I 100 per cent support where we are going with this.”
As a parent of a child who “graduated” from the centre and one who is currently attending QADC, Foss, who is expecting another child in the fall, says it will be challenging to find a centre that lives up to the standard set by Queens Avenue Daycare.
“I don’t think it has clicked in for a lot of us,” she says. “I think for parents it’s sad because we have this amazing resource that we have been lucky enough to have our children be part of.”