By Sophie Dudley 
BELLEVILLE – Hastings County will soon receive its first EarlyON  centre – a place where parents and preschool children can gather to learn, play, meet people and get advice.
The Algonquin Inòdewiziwin Child and Family Centre will be at Maynooth Public School  and will be operated by the Anishinaabe Baptiste Community Organization.  It will welcome both Indigenous and non-Indigenous families from the North Hastings area.
The project is receiving $684,508 from from the Ontario Ministry of Education over the next two years. Of that, $386,910 will be for operating, start-up and capital costs in 2018, and $297,598 will be for 2019, according to a media release from the county Thursday. The money comes through the Journey Together  program, which is described by the provincial government as a commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.
“This is fantastic news for our community,”said Hastings County  children services manager Cathy Williams-Utman. “It will bring all our families together to continue to learn about culture … for us to have a better understanding of Indigenous families and children. Students will learn to be proud of their identity and heritage.”
Inòdewiziwin is the Algonquin word for “family.” The name of the centre was chosen by the Bancroft-area Algonquin nation Kijicho Manito Madouskarini  because family is a key element of Algonquin culture.
“The program will be supporting Indigenous and non-(Indigenous) families that live in the north by providing different teachings, strengthening relationships and respecting their culture,” Williams-Utman said.
Outreach services will be provided to families throughout North Hastings for children six and younger. Children, families and caregivers will have access to culturally responsive programming, healthy food preparation and cooking.
Partnerships have been developed with the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board , North Hastings Children’s Services  and the Anishinaabe Baptiste Community Organization along with the Hastings County. According to documents provided by Williams-Utman, some of the key goals of the program are:
- Indigenous children and families will have access to culturally responsive programming
- Children will have access to play and inquiry-based learning opportunities
- Children will experience positive developmental health and well-being by using natural and traditional materials
- There will be better access and education to nutrition and healthy foods by educating students and staff about plants and how to gather food
- Children will learn how to make their own toys and crafts and spend less time in front of an electric screen
The plan is to have the program up and running by April, Williams-Utman said.