Noah’s Ark Preschool turned 20 in April 2019, but the celebration is more about building a place of connection for the community where children and families feel loved and accepted. That’s God’s way, and it’s what we feel we do at Noah’s Ark.
In more than 20 years of caring for children together with Quakers Hill Uniting, there are a wealth of stories and experiences, but one night in 2013 took us into uncharted places of understanding the way God builds community.
On 14 August 2013, a fire engulfed the roof at the Quakers Hill Complex and the Preschool was rendered uninhabitable for a period that eventually lasted almost 18 months. As the families were rung early that morning to let them know that the Preschool was not operating, the question asked amongst the staff and management board was how many of them would wait around to rejoin the preschool, knowing the demands and pressures of working parents.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have worried, because after some hard work by the staff and management board assisted by the church, Riverstone Uniting, Uniting and the wider community – the preschool re-opened two suburbs away a breathtaking two weeks later. Eighty families had rearranged their lives to wait and subsequently committed to making the extra drive to the temporary location. The ties amongst the preschool, church and community had proved resilient!
Noah’s Ark’s director Carinne Wood, who has been at Noah’s Ark since it opened, said “It is a God place, a centre unlike any other. It’s a centre that cares for the children, the families and the staff. We’re all like a big family and we’ve all been through a lot together. The fire was a turning point for me; the families didn’t notice the temporary premises, instead they greeted the staff and were appreciative of all we’d done to keep the centre open. We are doing something great here and many of those families have returned to celebrate with us on our 20th birthday.”
At Noah’s Ark, the philosophy is “We strive to be seen as a centre of excellence within our community, a centre which values community involvement in all aspects of our program.”
It is from that community that the preschool was originally set-up back in 1999. Members of the Quakers Hill Uniting Church at that time recognised the need for a place of belonging, support and connection for families who had moved into the growth area of Quakers Hill, often relocating some distance from extended family and friends. A steering group was established to look at planning the shape of the preschool. Funding was provided by a State Government grant, and a community management board, including church and parent representatives was established to oversee the centre.
The church and the preschool have worked together on several initiatives to welcome families. Some of the highlights are a drop-in coffee shop run by the minister and church volunteers at the beginning of each year at the morning drop off time. The coffee shop allows for new friendships for parents as their children settle into the centre. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Grandparent’s Week morning teas are also a highlight at the centre. There is an annual preschool church service and BBQ and a community Christmas Carols evening.
To grow ties between Noah’s Ark Preschool and the local community, in 2016 a playgroup was started as a joint activity of the Preschool and the Church. In the last 3 ½ years more than 150 families have participated, including many from non-English speaking backgrounds and different faith backgrounds.
Broader community initiatives
Other initiatives building the community of Noah’s Ark Preschool and the Quakers Hill Uniting Church include a Toy Library, Community Garden, Messy Church and Friday Night Kids Club. Recognising the many varied benefits of this broader community, the church received funding from Uniting to employ a part-time Family Community Coordinator. The coordinator is now working to build upon the effort already being done by the volunteers to enhance the connections between the community and the church; this includes involvement with the families at Noah’s Ark Preschool, particularly through the Noah’s Ark Playgroup.
So to recognise our first 20 years, Noah’s Ark Preschool celebrated in style in April, inviting past families, board members and staff to a celebration church service followed by a Birthday party at the Preschool.
At the celebration, Rev. Grant Atkins, minister at Quakers Hill Uniting, reflected on the faith which is at the heart of shaping the Noah’s Ark community. At every step, Grant said, “there has been a lot of imagination and believing in the possibilities. This fits into the imagination of our faith because we have a God who we believe in, who can take us there.” Rod Nadwie-Smith, Uniting’s Head of Early Learning, congratulated Noah’s Ark on its “amazing achievement”. Rod also spoke about the new shared governance model where services such as Noah’s Ark can partner with the local church to live out their strong local community connections, whilst also, with the support of Uniting Early Learning, fulfil all of their legal obligations.
“How do we replicate what you guys have done here about the community? With increasing social isolation that we find in communities, places like Noah’s Ark become even more important. My team’s challenge is, how do we continue to form communities, places like this, places people can connect and reduce the social isolation that we see in different communities?”
The celebration included the whole community because after all, it is the community that created Noah’s Ark Preschool.
Noah’s Ark Management Board