AMHERST, N.S. – When Maggie’s Place got off the ground in Amherst almost 24 years ago, Carolyn d’Entremont was its only employee, and it was a part-time position.
Now, as she retires as executive director, the family resource centre employs 12 full-time staff members and two part-time workers.
Maggie’s Place has come a long way in Amherst, but it was almost over as quickly as it started, according to d’Entremont.
In those days, all of the funding for the centre came from one source – Health Canada. On the day of its official grand opening, d’Entremont received a letter from Health Canada, telling her that funding was being cut by 51.9 per cent.
“It was probably a good day for it to arrive, in some ways,” she said. “I was reading it as I was waiting for the people who sent the letter to arrive and help us cut the ribbon. I still remember standing in the office, just laughing, thinking you couldn’t make this stuff up.”
Such a massive cut would have been a deathblow for Maggie’s Place, which she said was not exactly swimming in money, as it was. But they were not the only family resource centre in the province to receive a similar letter, and the outcry was fast and furious.
Even though Maggie’s Place had only existed in Amherst for about six months at that point, but reaction here was strong.
“People wrote letters, signed petitions, made phone calls, and we got inundated with letters of support,” recalled d’Entremont.
As a result, David Dingwall, then the minister responsible for Health Canada, rescinded the planned funding cut.
In the years since, many other funding sources have come on board, from the Community Action Program for Children, to Canadian prenatal Nutrition, to the provincial department of community services, and many others. Maggie’s Place has also become a United Way member agency.
“When I think of it now, the funding increased and allowed us to do so much more,” she said. “Initially, we were very focused on the 0-6 age group, which is still a priority group for us, but now we do a lot with teens and school-aged children. It allowed us to really expand and do much more.”
After 15 years as a critical care nurse, d’Entremont went to work the department of family and children’s services in 1993, and it was not long after that the seeds for Maggie’s Place were planted. The federal government had asked for proposal from community groups for projects that would benefit families with young children.
She was hired for the part-time position in August of 1994, and it admits it was a bit intimidating.
“I questioned myself, because it was just an idea… there wasn’t necessarily a lot of stability with it at the time,” she said. “But it was a real opportunity to learn a lot of skills, and not many people have the opportunity to take something that is just an idea and, with a lot of help, see that idea become something.”
Over the years, Maggie’s Place has enjoyed partnerships with numerous community groups and organizations, including public health, the school board, mental health, addictions services, and many others. When there is a need or a gap to be filled, they have worked together to make it happen.
Sarah MacMaster, who has worked at Maggie’s Place for almost 15 years and has taken over as its new executive director, credited d’Entremont for being a key player in creating that level of cooperation in Cumberland County.
“By the time I came in to work here, that was already created and I didn’t realize that doesn’t exist in other places,” she said. “Carolyn doesn’t give herself enough credit, she was definitely instrumental in creating that culture of collaboration and sharing resources. She’s like a pioneer.”
This pioneer will still be coming in to work one day per week to help with the transition, but plans to enjoy her retirement doing things like rug hooking, tai chi, volunteering, and traveling with her husband