Jamie-Lynn Mosher never imagined she would have anything good to say about Fiona; certainly not after the post-tropical storm severely damaged the daycare she has run for years in a small rural community in eastern PEI.
“There was so much devastation,” said Mosher, director of Rainbow Beginnings Early Childhood Center in St. Teresa. “My heart hurts just thinking about it.”
But a little more than a year later, when the center’s staff and most of the 80 children finally moved into a newly renovated space, she developed a weakness for the storm.
“Through it all, there’s always a silver lining. And a lot of people have said, ‘Thank God for Fiona,'” he said.
“Without Fiona, we would never have had this space upstairs. We wouldn’t have been able to partner with [funders] create a masterpiece for the community and for the children.
An imperfect solution
But the road to reopening had its obstacles.
In the days after Fiona’s attack in September 2022, Mosher and his staff scrambled to find a new temporary space in the area for the children. There wasn’t a building big enough, so they had to settle for three smaller spaces and divide the children.
Two of the new locations were a former bank and a church in Morell, a 15-minute drive north of Santa Teresa. The spaces were not designed for daycare and parents like Jessie Morrison-Grant had to drive a lot further.
“For us, that meant an extra half hour of travel each way a day,” Morrison-Grant said.
“We love [Rainbow Beginnings] a lot, so we compromised. “But it sure was an extra trip for us, for us and the kids… We just had to make plans about which parent could pick up when and if anyone needed to leave work early.”
“We continue to encounter obstacles”
For staff and parents, there was also the fear of never returning to the damaged building at St. Teresa.
The old church hall was owned by the parish of St. Cuthbert, who leased it to Mosher. The director said insurance money was limited to pay for the extensive repairs needed.
As a religious group, the parish was not eligible for most government-funded programs.
Children are excited to return to a space they know and love. So everyone is very happy with it.– Jessie Morrison-Grant
“We kept hitting bumps in the road again and again, and the parish council was working very hard to try to figure this all out for us,” Mosher said.
“Some days seemed really bleak. It really didn’t look like this place was going to survive, and we were just one big windstorm away from wondering, ‘Will this all go away?'”
‘A community pain’
Enter Active Communities Development Inc., a non-profit group focused on helping community projects in eastern PEI.
After learning of Rainbow Beginnings’ struggles, the group decided to intervene. He bought the building and raised the money needed to get the daycare back up and running.
“We had really seen a community suffering as a result of Fiona, so we felt good about just helping them,” said Active Communities chief executive Martina MacDonald.
With the help of around $500,000 in government funding, Active Communities not only restored the building but expanded it by adding an additional level.
“We thought, ‘Well, if we’re ever going to take this opportunity to make this a larger center so we can solve some of the child care problems in the region, now is the time,'” MacDonald said.
For now, it has given the kids a lot more space to run and play during the day.
Over time, following anticipated changes to child care capacity regulations in the province, Mosher hopes to be able to add more spaces and shorten her long wait list.
“The hardest part, of course, will be finding quality staff. Recruitment and retention are always difficult, especially in rural communities. But the kids are there,” he said.
The newly renovated building will also be used for community activities in the evenings and weekends.
For Morrison-Grant, those many months driving to Morrell have been worth it.
“It’s amazing. I was speechless when I walked in. It’s so open and geared toward movement and inclusion,” she said. “And the kids are excited to be back in a space they know and love. So everyone is very happy about it.”
“It’s the rainbow after the storm. It’s really come full circle for us,” Mosher added.
“When we weren’t here, we were so devastated that we weren’t in our little community with our family and friends. So to be back here is a huge blessing.”