By Janaia Hutzal
For Ponoka News
Since 2020, Rimbey Neighbourhood Place Society has been doing outeach work to Ponoka.
“I’m hoping that a community connection centre can be created in Ponoka that can be used by multiple human services agencies,” said Andrea Ramage, the program coordinator for Neighbourhood Place.
According to Ramage, the response to programs in Ponoka has been overwhelming.
“It’s wonderful and so much fun, but we were not ready for the number of people who are registering for programs.”
Neighbourhood Place runs two weekly outreach programs at the Ponoka Gymmastics Club. They currently do not have a building of their own in Ponoka.
Ramage has been an advocate for childhood development programs since she moved to the area in 2005.
Neighbourhood Place expanded the provision of services to families and individuals in the county through a Mental Health grant from Alberta Health Services. They are hoping to continue to grow alongside the growing interest from community members.
Cara Riske, who attends the program with her three children said that for her it’s a place where her children can play with others — and with her.
“It is nice to interact with my kids and learn new songs so we can sing them at home,” said Riske. “It’s amazing.”
Riske would like to see more programs added because the ones offered now fill up every week. She added that being home with young children can “get lonely” and she appreciates that the programs are free.
Presently, Neighbourhood Place only has enough funding for 40 weeks per year and can only offer two per week.
Neighbourhood Place Society also received funding through the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the Community Action Program for Children (CAPC) and is hoping for further support from the town to add to its Monday morning Kinder Gym and Friday’s Hickory Dikory Tots.
Ramage, who is currently working on a degree in human services, started her career in the area as a volunteer with Parent Link. She is also a social-emotional learning facilitator for Wolf Creek Public Schools. She recognizes the importance of connection and interaction for parents and children together with “community partnership.”
“The kids are getting that early link to language through play,” said Ramage, who said that the adults also get time to connect socially while the children work on arts and crafts with Tiffany Toma, from Ponoka Jubilee Library.
Ramage has noticed a decrease in support for parents and children under the age of six, compared to when her own child was young.
She said it is important that local families can always access local support – where they live – and that the classes also offer an opportunity to direct parents to other resources that they may not know about.
Ponoka resident Joa Fraumeni, who grew up in the town and moved back four years ago, agreed.
She and her one-year-old daughter attend the classes together and she has already noticed the positive impact they have made.
“It’s amazing to watch her confidence to grow,” said Fraumeni, describing the program as a safe place to play and learn.
“It gives me a chance to foster relationships with other moms and caregivers.”
Fraumeni said there seems to be a lack of resources for mothers with little ones in Ponoka and she would like to see a facility that offers the much-needed resources and support, without having to leave the community to find it.
You can find Neighbourhood Place on Facebook.