Sherri Manko cradles her three-week-old son Holden in her arms as her older son, Elliott Manko-Erickson, 2, buzzes around the Creating Together Family Resource Centre.
He begins with the playdough and then heads to the sand table where he drops a couple of shovel scoops of sand through a wheel before moving on to bang on noisemakers.
Manko has regularly been bringing Elliott to the resource centre for about a year and a half, even more often since Holden came along.
With a newborn and a toddler, Manko said the resource centre plays a vital roll in their lives.
“In the winter, it is somewhere to get out of the house and be with other kids,” she said.
“It is just a nice, free place to meet up with other parents and kids the same age.”
Spending time at the centre allows Manko to nurse the baby while Elliot is entertained by other children and adults are around to help keep an eye on him.
That’s important, she said.
Outings to the centre also helped to prepare Elliott for daycare, Manko said. Elliott has made friends, but just as important, his mother has met other parents and built a network.
For nearly 40 years, Creating Together on Queen Street West in Parkdale has been a place for parents, guardians and caregivers to come with their children.
It is a non-profit, charitable organization that provides a friendly and stimulating environment for children up to six years old to play, learn and socialize, with the aim of supporting healthy social, cognitive, emotional and physical development.
It’s a popular spot, with a minimum of 30 families, but sometimes as many as 100, coming every day, Monday to Friday and two Saturdays a month.
“A lot of moms are home and they need to get their children out, keep them busy and get them involved with other children,” said Zalikha Ramjohn, the centre’s manager of office administration.
“Even for the parents, it helps them meet other parents, build networks among themselves.”
There is no criteria to attend and the children come from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds.
Christa Thilagesnaran brings her three-year-old daughter Shuruthie almost daily.
She has been coming to the centre since her first child was born five years ago.
“This is a very good place to learn with the kids, from baby to school age,” she said. “My son learned a lot about behaving, sharing, playing nicely.”
Thilagesnaran said the centre – and its parents – have taught her everything from parenting strategies to other cultural traditions.
“We share food, we share culture,” she said. “I get so much benefit from (the centre).
The storefront space is a light-filled and colourful environment where parents and caregivers stay with their children and supervise play.
There is story time, music, drama and healthy snacks.
“We set up activities in all areas of development and we encourage parents to get involved with their children and participate,” Ramjohn said.
The drop-in centre also offers parent relief, nutrition programs, health promotion activities, parenting and caregiver education, resource lending library, and clothing exchange.
There are workshops, educational activities, visits by a public health nurse and even off-site field trips to places outside of Toronto.
Creating Together offers opportunities to share parenting techniques and promote an understanding of child development, Ramjohn said.
She said the centre plays a vital roll in many of their participants’ lives. It is funded through the City of Toronto and through fundraising activities.
The biggest such fundraiser is the seventh annual ‘Get Out and Play’ Gala Monday, Nov. 26.
The Gala is at Parts & Labour Restaurant and Bar at 1566 Queen St. W. from 7 to 10 p.m.
There will be multicultural dance performances given by local families, a silent auction and a balloon pop fundraising game with prizes.
“It is a really exciting event because it brings the whole community together and it is a night out for parents without the kids,” said Patty Porretta, resource development manager at Creating Together.
Tickets are $5, Porretta said, as a means to keep it accessible to the entire community.
Expected to attend are parents, caregivers, donors, sponsors, community members and politicians.
The goal of the gala is to raise $10,000. The centre operates on a budget of roughly $267,000, but ideally Porretta said they could raise more money to expand what the centre currently offers in terms of programming, buying new toys or making capital improvements, all elements which are currently above and beyond their $267,000 budget.
Tickets are available in advance at the centre at 1497 Queen St. W. at Queen and Sorauren Avenue and at the door on the evening of the event.
For information, call 416-537-1004.