© Eric Sparling - Amherst Daily News
AMHERST – Parenting young children brings many joys. But it presents challenges, too, among them isolation.
Isolation doesn’t describe the experience parents and children enjoy Friday mornings at Hertz Hall, Trinity-St. Stephen’s United Church in Amherst. And it certainly didn’t describe the scene this Friday past, when three women who’ve been instrumental in running the church’s Parents and Tots program since the 1990s were honoured with CTV’s ‘Maritimer of the Week’ designation.
“Was it ever (a shock)!”, said Lillian Estabrooks, after CTV reporter Dan MacIntosh filmed Estabrooks and her two sisters – Olivia Williams and Beth Dickinson – receiving certificates.
“We just love them all,” said Estabrooks, as children played in the background.
She said the toddlers are walking, then ”next thing” off to school. The former teacher has seen a second generation come through the program, too, with grown-up participants bringing their own kids.
The non-denominational social group meets Fridays from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Children play and have a snack.
“(Parents) come and get together and talk,” said the Maritimer of the Week.
The children have lots of space to run and play, and keeps away cabin fever for at-home parents, according to Estabrooks.
“It’s really good for the kids, too,” she said.
When the young ones first come, they’re shy and clingy, but they learn to share and make friends.
Parents connect, too, according to mother-of-four Candice Haynes.
“I have some really good friends that I’ve met from here,” she said.
She praised the opportunity to have adult conversation and share parenting tips. She said the church volunteers like the opportunity to interact with the kids.
Her three-year old daughter, Ella, offered enthusiastic one-word answers to questions. She confirmed she enjoyed the program, and answered clearly when asked her favourite toy in the Hertz Hall collection.
“Diego!” she declared, then proceeded to follow another child who was playing with a toy car featuring the eponymous cartoon character at the wheel.
“We call them the three sisters,” said Bonnie Wilkie, one of perhaps four volunteers, in addition to the honoured siblings, who helps with the program.
She said the parents and tots program is for anyone, church member or not, and that even babysitters and grandparents show up with their young charges.
“And for us, it’s the most fun gig ever,” she said.
Estabrooks’s family – husband, daughters, grandkids – were there for the event.
“I am so proud…,” said her daughter, Jennifer Gagne. She expressed pride in her two aunts, too.
Gagne said her own kids attended the program, too. Seeing her mother receive Maritimer of the Week made an impact.
“Yeah, sure, a big honour,” she said.
The idea of nominating the three women for the honour originated with church member David Van Zoost.