It’s not easy to walk away from a venture that’s been your life’s work, especially when it feels like an extended family.
But Helen Mouland has decided it’s time to retire as she celebrates a 74th birthday and significant expansion at Miss Helen’s, the daycare she’s directed for 32 years.
In the local day-care industry, Miss Helen’s is a household name and a place where countless little Sarnians spent their early years.
“We focus on our families because we feel we are an extension of them,” she says. “Parents have to go to work and it really takes a village.”
Miss Helen’s Daycare started in 1987 as a child-care service for the newcomers’ program at the old YMCA on Mitton Street.
Years before, Mouland was a registered child-minder in her home in Britain. When she moved to Sarnia, she graduated from the Early Childhood Education program at Lambton College and found work immediately.
“My career evolved without a plan,” she said, laughing. “The Ministry of Citizenship needed someone for its newcomers’ program and I was asked.”
She took care of the children of new Canadians learning English as a second language.
When the program shifted to a new location that became the Adult Learning Centre on Oakdale Avenue, Mouland “moved my merry band over there.” The nursery school attained non-profit status with a volunteer board of directors.
“I wasn’t at one meeting and the board decided to call it Miss Helen’s,” she said. “I said, oh no, that’s too much attention. But it was done.
“There was such diversity there and we really got along so well,” she said. “Those were the best years.”
Thirteen years later, Miss Helen’s was looking for a new location and found a small space downtown on the ground floor of the Kenwick Place on George Street.
“We were a staff of five and we went out, got new zoning and put up the walls ourselves for a fully licensed daycare centre,” she said.
Miss Helen’s Daycare opened in 2000 with two rooms and space for 23 toddlers and preschoolers.
A series of expansions followed, with the latest just completed.
On May 10, Helen Mouland’s final day, an open house was held to say goodbye and show off the daycare’s new preschool room. Fifteen new spaces have been created, including 10 for toddlers.
Miss Helen’s now accommodates 64 children, including six infants, and employs 12.
“There are many children we get at just a few months old and we have them for years,” Mouland said. “I’m going to miss this so much. The small children just amaze me.
“The amount of development that goes on in the first five years is so impressive, it’s so wonderful to be part of that.”
Operating Miss Helen’s has literally been a family affair. Mouland’s daughter Annabel McAnulty has worked with her the past 27 years, and McAnulty is now the new director.
But in retirement Mouland will keep a hand in the corporation by sitting on the board of directors.
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