Had Grace Howard chosen to be a shepherd, she probably would have been a successful one.
That’s because children have been flocking and gathering at Little Bo-Peep Early Learning Centre for the past three and half decades.
Howard is the non-profit centre’s executive director and will be retiring on Dec. 12 after 36 years. To mark the occasion, board members and staff will hold a retirement celebration on Thurs., Nov. 15 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the centre, located in the Prendergast Centre at 906 Cottonwood Rd.
"It will be a come-and-go tea and the invite extends to anybody impacted by her through the years, whether it’s a former child or parent," said Bo-Peep’s assistant director Sandy Carrette, who will replace Howard. "Anyone who remembers Mrs. Howard is welcome to come down and wish her well with the next stage of her life."
"I’d like to say she’s impacted tens of thousands of kids, but I’ll conservatively say 5,000 at the very least."
Carrette said Howard’s secret is her passion and her belief that all families deserve the same educational opportunities.
"She’s dedicated herself to families by ensuring all have access to high quality education. Lots of centres refuse to take part-time kids, but she ensures flexibility in the program. She also takes special needs kids, as well as adults with special needs, accompanied by an aide, as part of work curriculum programs," Carrette said.
"In fact, the only reason a child would be denied care here is if we physically don’t have the room. If we’re able to safely provide care, we will."
The centre is currently operating at its capacity of 96 child care spaces and services St. Boniface, St. Vital, Windsor Park, Southdale, River Park South, Island Lakes and Sage Creek.
It’s a far cry from the private daycare Howard started out of her family’s side-by-side in Windsor Park in 1976.
"It was a way to stay home with my kids and combine my passion for children," said Howard, who was able to secure a licence because she was a qualified operating room technician. Eventually, she moved the centre to its current location and it became a non-profit operation.
"I’m just inspired by seeing children when they need to be away from home and watching them blossom and grow. I believe that when a child is five or seven, they are already on their way to becoming the person they will be. It’s paramount that we help them reach their potential," she said, noting the centre follows the emergent curriculum.
Howard added the centre’s intake reflects the shifting demographics in southeast Winnipeg.
"A lot of people are immigrating to Winnipeg, so we really want to be a multicultural centre. That’s really important," Howard said, noting her philosophy has been impacted by her travels to places such as India, Pakistan, China and Europe.
The 64-year-old admits she has bittersweet feelings about leaving her legacy behind.
"It’s an emotional roller-coaster right now. I’m excited about retiring, but I still get a lump in my throat when a parent or staff member starts crying."
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