UPDATE: 2 p.m.
Horns were honking and there was an atmosphere of celebration outside Kelowna's Starbright Children's Development Centre Saturday morning, as families rallied in support of the local non-profit organization.
After the province announced last month it would be cutting Starbright's funding this spring and moving to a service delivery model though a centralized “Family Connection Centre,” parents and others in the community vocally opposed the move. Friday, the province opted to instead continue funding Starbrigh through to April 2025, with the option for another year extension.
The planned rally Saturday morning opposing Starbright's closure turned into a more joyous occasion, as people came out to celebrate the decision, and push for a more permanent solution.
“This is amazing. Our families, our former families, community members, they've all turned out today for a demonstration of support for us,” said Rhonda Nelson, executive director of Starbright.
“It would be our hope that over the next two years that we would be seen as a critical part of the [Family Connection Centre]. We certainly support more services for children and youth so we would look forward to any opportunity to continue.”
Kelowna mayor Tom Dyas, along with local MLAs Renee Merrifield and Norm Letnick, were in attendance at Saturday's event, showing support for Starbright.
Several parents shared their own personal stories of how the non-profit organization has helped their children, and themselves.
“They've changed my life,” said Robin Pinder, whose son has benefited from the services provided by Starbright. “They've really, really helped with the development of Jackson and they make me feel like I'm a better mom.
“I felt alone until I found Starbright. I felt alone and defeated and we were in and out of the hospital since he was born trying to figure out what was going on with him and they found us our answers.”
Another parent, Jean Gibson, called Starbright “life-saving” and said she was thrilled with the extension, as her son transitions into kindergarten.
“He wouldn't be the person he is today without them and that's why so many parents are here today because it means a lot to us,” Gibson said.
The Family Connection Centre pilot program, operated by ARC Programs, will still be funded by the province. It will help deliver services for young people 19 and under, while Starbright provides services for children six and under.
ORIGINAL: 8:40 a.m.
Families using the services of Kelowna's Starbright Children's Development Centre will be celebrating Saturday, after the province announced it will extend the service provider's funding for another two years.
The extension comes after the province previously announced last month it would cease funding the non-profit organization this spring, and move to a new “hub model” for children's services in the Central Okanagan.
ARC Programs secured a three-year contract to run the new “Family Connection Centre,” which will provide parents with access to a wide range of services for young people 19 and under. But this meant that Starbright, which has operated in Kelowna since 1966 and currently serves about 1,000 children six and under in the Central Okanagan, would lose its funding and be forced to close.
Parents who use Starbright's services were concerned with the change, and began campaigning to save the organization. An online petition has garnered more than 2,700 signatures in just four days.
It appears these parents' voices have been heard.
Late Friday night, Starbright President and CEO Carol Meise announced the Ministry of Children and Family Development has agreed to extend Starbright's contract for another two years, with an additional one-year extension option.
“The Starbright parents have been absolute and committed advocates for their children,” Meise said in a statement. “Their success in keeping our child development centre open and operating at this time is a testament to the power of a group working together and developing solutions to help make their children’s lives better.”
For at least the next two years, Starbright will operate alongside ARC's new Family Connection Centre, collaborating with and supporting that new pilot project. Starbright will continue to offer kids six and under a wide range of services, including speech and language pathology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, infant development, supported child development, and clinical counselling.
“Concerns over the FCC pilot and how it might impact Starbright operations have been challenging to Starbright, our staff, our parents, and their children. We are very pleased we have earned this opportunity to continue providing the excellent care and professional service to families in need in the Central Okanagan,” Meise said.
A rally planned for Saturday morning outside Starbright at 1546 Bernard Avenue will still continue, but Meise says it's expected to have a much more celebratory tone now. The rally kicks off at 10:30 a.m. and anyone in the community is welcome to attend.