An innovative partnership between Queensland Uniting Church congregations over 400 kilometres apart has resulted in a new early childhood centre serving isolated families. Dianne Jensen reports.
The $1.25 million Mitchell Early Childhood Education Centre (ECEC) was opened in September last year on the grounds of Mitchell State School with the help of a $58 000 state government grant and the provision of a refurbished building.
Lifeworks Outside Hours School Care, a ministry of the Lifeworks Uniting Church in Toowoomba, is the service provider. Mitchell ECEC will be fully funded for 22 kindergarten children for three years.
Management team chair Pauline Newton, now living in Toowoomba, was born and raised in Mitchell and knows first-hand about the isolation faced by families. When Lifeworks launched an appeal for the Mitchell community following the devastating floods of 2012, she knew that there was more that the congregation could do to help.
“The state government was tendering for the running of kindergartens in targeted communities—Mitchell was one. I knew that Lifeworks could not successfully operate a centre on our own; we needed to have local community input and involvement, especially around offering pastoral care.”
The conversation began between Rev David Ellis, former minister at Lifeworks and Rev Linda Hamill from Maranoa congregations and The Downs Presbytery, and a successful long-distance partnership was launched.
“Our management team meetings are held via conference calls. The presbytery representative is in Stanthorpe, Maranoa members are in Roma, Lifeworks is in Toowoomba and our centre director is in Mitchell. Lifeworks is responsible for all administrative matters; Maranoa congregations for pastoral care.”
The Mitchell community has welcomed the new facility, says Ms Newton, and it is already having a positive impact.
“Children will be entering Prep more ‘school ready’ for the first time in Mitchell. Children from outlying properties are being given the opportunity to play with other children.”
The ECEC director has been able to identify learning needs, and to encourage parents to seek medical advice and parenting support before children begin school.
The local Indigenous Bidjurra people are working closely with the management team, and the Indigenous community has donated resources from the former Anduna Kindergarten Association, including a generous donation from asset sales.
Another major benefit for the small community is the creation of eight jobs, generating income across the community.
For members of the Uniting Church in Mitchell, the facility is an important reminder that “although their place of worship has been closed, the church has a presence in the town once again,” says Ms Newton. “Not only does the ECEC offer childcare and employment but through the Maranoa congregations we provide spiritual input and offer pastoral care to the Mitchell community.”
Rev Faye Talatonu will commence ministry with the Maranoa congregations in February.