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REPORTING · 7th July 2014
Walter McFarlane
The Kitimat Child Development Centre (CDC) Celebrated its 40th anniversary in Kitimat on Wednesday, June 25th. The Luso Club of Kitimat was filled with people who have been involved with the Centre, many of whom have been touched by it over the years. Present was Dr. Kwadwo (Kojo) Asante, a Pediatrician who worked in Kitimat and Terrace for 20 Years.

“Tonight is to celebrate 40 years of services to children and family. To reminisce, to start a year of celebrating, to recognize how important services are for children,” said Margaret Warcup, Executive Director of the Child Development Centre.

“The importance of celebrating tonight is recognizing what a valuable asset the people of Kitimat and Kitimat Village have in our Child Development Centre. This is not an organization that exists in every town our size, in the Province of British Columbia. Celebrate how fortunate we are, and how far we’ve come, from 3 programs in 1974 to 28 programs today, from starting off serving 9 children to having served over 5000,” said Jo Anne Hildebrandt, President of the CDC.

Also present were MLA Robin Austin and Mayor Joanne Monaghan who spoke highly of the services of the CDC and the work done by Dr. Asante.

The CDC was started on November 4th, 1974 with a small group of parents and Dr. Asante. Asante realized there was an absence of services for children which physical and developmental disabilities locally.

“I was sending some children to Vancouver for service. When they got back, there was no means of continuing the services for them so it seemed wise to develop a source of treatment locally in the North West,” said Asante.

He approached multiple people and organizations and by approaching parents and the school boards, they were able to secure a group of parents who wanted to help their children. They found a space to set up the CDC and help these children. It started with physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech Therapy and Preschool.

The location of the Child Development Centre has moved several times over the years. It was located in Service Centre, it was at the Kitimat General Hospital, Roy Wilcox and is now at the old Kitimat School District Board Office. People came from all over the world to work in Kitimat and in Terrace.

Asante left Kitimat in 1990. He spent the last 25 years working in Maple Ridge on the prevention and diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, also known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. During the 70s, he became aware of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome from a report in the United States. He realized there were children he was working with who showed signs of the disorder.

This led to a study founded by the Council of Yukon Indians and the government of the Yukon Territories which looked at Northwest BC and the Yukon. They identified Children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. When he moved to Maple Ridge, Many parents brought their children in for assessment. Some of these children were adopted or were fostered. It was realized there was a need in BC for a centre to diagnose these children and a program to help them.

“Quite a few parents got together and decided to set up a centre in Maple Ridge. When the Centre was set up, they named the Asante Centre in recognition of the work I had done in this area,” said Asante. “The Centre has continued to work hard and outreach in BC and other parts of the world.”

“It’s grown immensely, particularly in Kitimat right now, we are a multi-service centre, we have mental health services, we have family support services, we have all of the therapies, we have all of the preschool, all of the day care, and even more recently, we’ve been venturing into some of the housing support needs in Kitimat. It has evolved to a family centred centre where we are caring for children and families, for their health, education and social services,” said Margaret Warcup.

According to Hildebrandt, they are involved in so many things that the name Child Development Centre is a misnomer.

Hildebrandt told us that Warcup has her finger on the pulse of the community and can see the Child Development Centre taking a role in housing development for young adults who have special needs to help them become independent. If the programs keep expanding, they are going to have to expand their space. She expressed another challenge the Child Development Centre might face is Government funding.

Warcup has been with both centres for almost 36 years. She expressed she has many wonderful memories working for it. She express since picking up Dr. Asante at the airport and reminiscing with him, she has had plenty of tears reminiscing over children who have gone through the Child Development Centre and then have gone on to do great things.

“He has a phenomenal memory for every child he’s ever seen. He can recall their name, their birthdate and things like that,” said Warcup.

Warcup stated her favourite memories are too many to count. They include the little ones who give hugs, the ones who graduate from high school or university or the ones that are out on the sports fields. “You know you’ve made a difference in their lives,” said Warcup.

Hildebrandt has been involved since her son was born 25 years ago. She has been a board member for 22 years. She explained how the Child Development Centre was instrumental in getting the Telethon started. Her family was being interviewed. During the interview, her older son Todd was asked what it was like to have a brother with special needs.

“’And he said, he’s my brother, he’s just Brad.’ And that was his answer, as a child. He’s my brother. It’s not any different. That moment has stuck with me,” said Hildebrandt. Hildebrandt expressed parents of children with special needs ride an emotional roller coaster. The centre helps them to get through difficult times.

She suggested the best advice she could give parents with children with special needs is to be open about your child. The more people who know about who their child is, the more understanding they will see coming from people around them.

“Don’t be ashamed of yourself, don’t be ashamed of it. Help people understand who their child is. Help them to see your child as a child first and a disability second,” said Hildebrandt.

Prior to the dinner, it was announced that her son, Brad Hildebrandt had a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance.

Asante stated the CDC has changed many lives, children and parents. “I’m sure there is nothing more frustrating than having a child with needs which are not recognized and when recognized, not having an access to intervention or remediation,” said Asante.

He stated the intervention is helping a child with cerebral palsy walk, a child with speech problems communicate or helping an autistic child to understand language and reciprocate language with the parents.

When asked what his favourite memory was, Dr. Asante expressed: “My favourite is that the work has continued. All the therapies, the various therapists who came to work here, interactions with the parents who needed help, my interaction with the parents support groups, the meetings we had on what to do and what to do with all these things are things I look back on with pleasure.”

He was pleased to see the CDC is adding to the services they offer. These services including working with pregnant women and like early child interventions, services which they did not think of many years ago.

Warcup thanked all the parents and volunteers who have helped make the centre what it is over the years, she thanked all the awesome staff and support from the community. Hildebrandt thanked the staff for their level of dedication and commitment and the volunteers.

“The children are important to our society and our communities. A lot of the time we pay lip service to ‘children are our future.’ But there is no area more important than helping children in need, their family. It’s not only one child or one family, but it is a societal need and a community need. This is something we need to continue to do and in the end, we help society in general,” said Asante.