All Aboard Noah’s Ark 1997–2017
On September 8, 1997 Noah’s Ark Preschool opened its doors for the first time and, 20 years later, on June 20, 2017 the doors will close for the final time.
Noah’s Ark was the vision of active members of Sharon Hope’s congregation Dale Knight-Mannell and Cathy Crosby (formerly Bennett). The ongoing success of Vacation Bible School (now Cooperative Church Camp-CCC) inspired them to replicate the model in a Christian preschool format. Shortly after opening we were advised by Presbytery that we were the only preschool in Canada operated by a United Church.
Rev. Dr. Lesley Clare, the minister during the planning phase, enthusiastically supported the preschool and viewed it as an exciting opportunity for Sharon-Hope. A preschool would change the church and after many discussions and a full year, the plan to open a non-profit licensed outreach program of SHUC was approved. It was challenging to meet the Ministry of Community and Social Services (now Ministry of Education) requirements but with the support of the congregation and championed by Ed Hunt and Linda Coyle, the doors were opened.
Initially the program ran 5 half days but was reduced to 4 half days after year one. With a steady decline in enrolment, the preschool moved to 2 days in 2012. Since inception the preschool has welcomed 502 children of all faiths and abilities from East Gwillimbury and surrounding areas while contributing furniture, fixtures, supplies and $55,200 to the church.
In 2000, Cheryl Telford joined Dale as Co-Director as Cathy moved on to become an elementary school teacher. Cheryl took on the role of developing a creative program while Dale continued to manage the ever changing strict licensing requirements and ensured the program remained financially viable. Cheryl and Dale formed an amazing team for 17 years. Their core values and work ethics complimented each other.
The preschool brings young energy and excitement to the church that will be missed. Our students enthusiastically gathered each morning in the outdoor playground and utilized the entire church facility including the Memory Garden, Sanctuary, Lounge, Sunday School rooms, Harmony Hall and of course the Nursery. Every Christmas we filled the church with family and friends for “Hark..Christmas Comes to the Ark!”. CCC music as well as tunes from Rev. Clare’s recordings were thoroughly enjoyed by our students. The preschool provided support for parents, grandparents and created lifelong friendships all fostered at Noah’s Ark.
We were truly blessed to be supported by community members including the York Regional fire and police staff, health care professionals and community members sharing their talents. Assistance was always available and included support from Bloise Thomson, Lynn Jewell, Jim Greig, Paula Roberts, Janet Elmer, Ted Wilkinson, Bob & Maryanne Patterson, Dianne Pegg, Judy Maybe, Max & Ruth Leeson, Katie Dyke, Shelly Lane, Tanya Thomson, Lori Fisher, Margaret Shropshire, Gay VanCaeyzeele, Corine Bowden and Tracey Doncses. In addition Phil Mannell, Todd Telford and our own children were always there to support us in various ways including toy cleaning, craft preparation and equipment repair. Noah’s Ark was a Mannell/Telford family endeavour!
It is with some sadness we close Noah’s Ark after 20 wonderful years.
The demand for our program has been wavering as the needs of our community change. Our informal research indicates parents require full time daycare rather than a part time preschool program. The Worship Team has committed to completing a community needs assessment that acknowledges the tremendous growth in our area, and determines the requirements of both our current and new neighbours.
We are celebrating 20 years of success and joy! We have been blessed to have shared time with so many wonderful children and their families. We have many photos and letters of appreciation that acknowledge our commitment to the importance of Christian education and the values instilled by Noah’s Ark. Every Noah’s Ark graduate knows they are loved unconditionally and that they are an important part of God’s world.
It has been an honour and privilege to offer Noah’s Ark Preschool program to our community on behalf of Sharon Hope United Church.