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Community connections . . . Oamaru Kindergarten Association general manager Julie Craig is looking forward to opening the association's new Family Hub on Monday. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

Oamaru Kindergarten Association (OKA) is taking the next step in its journey of strengthening connections with the community and giving back.

The OKA office has moved to 209-211 Thames St and on Monday, it will open its new Family Hub next door.

OKA general manager Julie Craig said the Family Hub was something quite dear to her heart and had been about eight years in the making.

It would be open Monday to Friday and was a space where parents could pop in with their children, sit down, and “do whatever they need to do”.

It had tea and coffee facilities, toys, games and activities for children, and a changing table.

“Change the child, have a coffee, sit down, read a book,” Ms Craig said.

It also had a community meeting room, which could be hired for a donation to OKA, and a table of donated books and clothing which people could take, borrow, or replace – no questions asked.

It was open to the whole community, and whanau support worker Shirley McVie would also be available to support the families of children enrolled at OKA kindergartens.

“I saw the need [for] connecting with our families. I saw our teachers doing a lot more work that took them away from educating the children, so this allows us the ability to do that work with the families, while still focusing on what our core role is, which is to educate the kids,” Ms Craig said.

The Family Hub was also a way for the non-profit organisation to give back to the community that supported OKA so well, she said.

“We are here to return our income back to the community. So this was just the next step in our journey of strengthening our connections within the community and giving back to the community that supports us.”

OKA had been looking for a new space for about 18 months and it had all come together perfectly in the former Property Brokers building.

“This opportunity came up, and we wanted to create the Family Hub and give families a place to come – and it was a prime space to do that.

“The landlord here has been exceptional. He’s done a lot of work to make it available for us to move in … and been very generous with the rent.

“It’s been really easy to pull it together. Everybody has just pitched in, and it’s been really good.”

OKA was formed in 1950, led by president Edna McCulloch, with the support of vice-presidents Hilda Gardiner and Margaret Meikle. It established its first two kindergartens – Edna McCulloch and Casa Nova Kindergarten- in 1952, followed by Holmes Kindergarten in 1970, Glen Warren in 2013 and Maheno in 2016.

At present, OKA supports 250 families across its five kindergartens.

“Early childhood education has grown so much. Kindergarten’s changing to meet the needs in the kindergarten way.”

Last year, the association started offering a van service to collect children from their homes and drop them off after the kindergarten day.

The eight-seater vehicle was donated by the Rotary Club of Oamaru, using some of the proceeds from Bookarama, to help parents and caregivers overcome barriers to education.

OKA had already outgrown the van, and was hiring a bigger van from North Otago Motor Group at present, doing an average of 28 pick-ups a day.

“The van has definitely grown faster than we expected it to – and it’s awesome,” she said.