Taliah Stephenson-Dumas of Kai-Shin North Branch studies her opponents while waiting for her opportunity to enter the sparring ring at the Michael Chapman Memorial Tournament on Sunday Oct. 4 2015 in Haliburton. Her brother Anthony Stephenson-Dumas also a martial artist and a student of Michael Chapman's sits beside his sister in encouragement. Photo by Sarah Vance

Marie Hodgson reflects on decades at Wee Care

Over the last 33 years Marie Hodgson has watched Wee Care grow up from the small business she created in 1986 to the bustling daycare it is today.

Now she says it’s time to retire as administrator and let other staff take the lead as the centre continues to mature – though to her it doesn’t feel like retiring.

“I don’t like using that word [retiring] for Wee Care because I feel like it really hasn’t been work; I’ve really enjoyed it” she says.

Marie was 23 years old and newly graduated from university when she opened Wee Care in a rented house in Haliburton. It had enough space for eight children.

For the first year she was the only staff member. Her husband Chris was at that time a real estate agent and would lend a hand when he could.

“Chris used to come during the lunch hour when the kids were having their lunches and he would sit and talk to the kids so I could get up and use the washroom or whatever because I was there on my own” Marie says.

She offered a nursery school with morning and afternoon care. Before Wee Care came along parents in Haliburton mostly relied on the few childcare providers who worked out of their homes or on neighbours and family members. She says the childcare providers were experienced with good reputations but didn’t meet the demand.

After two years in business there was a waiting list and two staff members. Marie and Chris decided it was time to expand. They bought the County Road 21 property where the centre operates today and over a six-week period in 1988 they renovated a garage into a daycare.

The Hodgsons had also just welcomed the first of their children into the world months before moving into the new building.

“For the first year of operation I didn’t make any money. I didn’t have a salary so I basically made enough money to have supplies for the program we could pay the rent. … The second year I was able to pay myself a little bit” Marie says.

In order to qualify for grants to renovate the daycare and to hire staff and provide subsidies for parents in 1988 Wee Care became a not-for-profit corporation with a board of directors. Five years later after school care at J.D. Hodgson Elementary School was added to their services.

Today there are between 52 to 58 children who are cared for by Wee Care and 14 staff members with the potential of another three to four if they’re successful in moving ahead with an expansion for infant care says Denise Wolm who is taking on the administrative role at the daycare.

“I have a waiting list with 30 children on it and I’d say 70 per cent of those children are infant age that I can only at this point take two children in my toddler room between the age of 12 and 18 months and some of those parents have to go back to work even before their child is 12 months old” Wolm says.

With the new project on the horizon Marie says the time was right to “retire” from Wee Care.

“We’re so busy right now and we’re talking about expanding our program and that’s going to take a lot of effort and focus. I know Denise has been excited about doing it” she says.

Marie has been working remotely for many years since relocating to Markham with her family more than 20 years ago.

“In 1997 Chris had been working in the city for almost four years because he was elected [as MPP] and he was in the cabinet. I was living up here with our four children at that time and he was there. We decided that I should move to have the family all together” she says.

To make it work Marie’s job was divided into two roles: the supervisor for the day-to-day operations which was assumed by Wolm and the administrator to deal with the government reports billing and accounting.

Marie says watching children grow into adults and bring their own kids in to Wee Care has been one of the most rewarding parts of the job. Some kids have grown up to work at the daycare or serve on its board including Tanya Cowen who was first a co-op student in high school and is now taking on supervisory duties.

Board members Ryan Wood and Chris Bishop were both first kids at Wee Care. Connie Wood Ryan’s mother was one of the first board members.

Marie says she now intends to channel her energies into her son Clayton’s business CoHo Apparel where she says she can put her bookkeeping skills to work.

She’s thankful to the community and to the staff for the last 33 years.

“It started so long ago; the community just embraced me and took a chance and sent their children to Wee Care not really knowing who I was” she says.

“Staff have done such a great job. … It’s been their reputation and they’ve all taken it to heart and offered a great service over the years.”

Marie is retiring on June 28.