Lynn Easton.

Lynn Easton.

Early On: Teens, toddlers share more than a school

Garibaldi secondary hosting Strong Start program.

There’s been a lot of changes out here in rural east Maple Ridge recently and I have to admit, I’m a reluctant convert to all this newfangled convenience and connection to the wider world.

I prefer the swaths of undisturbed farm and forest land. I’m a big fan of small neighbourhood stores and farmgate eggs and veggies.

And I never minded that we had to make the trek into town for pizza and fancy coffee for decades because no business in their right mind would make the trek past 240th Street.

So, it’s with a begrudging understanding that ‘the times they are a changing’ and I have to embrace the coffee shop wars, the handy pizza spot, and the creeping sense of connection to the wider community happening out here in the boondocks.

I’m not the only one starting to adapt. These physical changes might also be making a bit of meaningful social change for people now using these gathering spots. I love seeing my two favourite isolated groups – young parents and young teens – creating ad hoc meeting spaces that pulse with energy.

It makes me smile to think there’s also a more formal connection brewing as a result of all this new attention on east Maple Ridge.

Beginning this year, Garibaldi secondary will host the former Blue Mountain elementary free Strong Start program after the latter needed space for its own growing population.

This cool new addition to the high school hallways is located in a bright, open space near Garibaldi’s gymnasium and has its own separate door to the outside.

The space will also be home to other local Early Years Centre programming, including parent coffee time (more caffeine), Mother Goose, and other events to help parents connect with other families and local services.

And just to further entice young parents, you’ve got a chance to win a gift basket overflowing with useful goodies put together by the Early Years Centre committee if you drop in anytime between Oct. 1 and Halloween.

But after years of searching for connection with other parents of toddlers, I can already tell you that the best gift they’re going to get is the knowledge that the place will help keep you sane in our otherwise isolating rural community.

I remember being forced to drive into town to access anything at all for my kids. I would have loved to hang out in an open, well-lit room with a ‘cup of Joe’ and some idle chat.

Truthfully, I may have been a little nervous entering a high-school with my toddlers. But I learned to love Garibaldi not long after I dropped my oldest baby off at the front doors of this great school for the first time.

She was 13, mind you, but they never stop being your babes.

I love the thought that young parent as isolated as I was, can now walk those halls long before they’ll ever dream of their child being old enough to walk through those doors alone. Especially when I know they’ll realize so much earlier than me, what a vibrant, inviting, inventive and forward-looking place it is. Filled with kids who want to reach out and do good.

But trust me, these teens know how you feel. They were once east Maple Ridge babies and grew up knowing exactly what it is like to crave the kind of community the Garibaldi Strong Start and Early Years centre is giving the next generation.

I can even imagine those teens offering their help, their laughter, their energy to the place.

But that’s just my own small dream right now. Don’t worry, the place is run by a fully-trained ECE professional, along with other community experts who will be in and out with great programs and a friendly spot to hang out.

Still, the unique location will give you a chance to peek into the future while you make some solid memories right now. So, whether you get behind them in the coffee shop or wait for that morning brew at the Garibaldi Early Years Centre, take a good look at those tall, lanky teens. Maybe even reach out, say hello, learn a bit about their teenage lives. Your wee ones are going to join their ranks someday – sooner than you think.

– Lynn Easton writes for the Ridge Meadows Early Childhood Development Committee.