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Esterhazy preschool victim of fraud

Reports of financial fraud seem to be increasingly common these days, but when it hits a local non-profit involving kids, the act is especially infuriating. That was just the situation faced by the Growing Tree Preschool Co-operative in Esterhazy recently.

“On Oct. 19, our financial situation tragically changed as we fell victim to bank fraud,” read a portion of a request letter that went out to local businesses. “Currently, we have been told that there is very little that can be done other than fundraising to keep our doors open, our teachers employed, and our children in their beloved program. This is our plea to the community to come together to help us keep our amazing program available to our area.”

In total, $57,000 was siphoned from the account, placing the preschool in a very precarious situation and an uncertain future.

“It’s just so challenging to be a non-profit preschool, not funded by the government,” explained Regan Ignatow, president of the Growing Tree board. “All of our funds come from parent tuition and fundraising. All of those funds were previous parents’ efforts to put us into a situation of financial stability, and then to have the carpet ripped out underneath us so that we’re scrambling for this year—and it also puts next year into jeopardy, because the fundraising that the parents would have done this year would have been what secured our position for next year. It’s so sad.”

After discovering that the funds were missing, the group reached out to their financial institution and the RCMP, plus anyone with access to the bank account, and had their computers scanned for possibly viruses and malware. Investigation into the theft is still ongoing at this point.

“It’s been an incredibly challenging and heartbreaking situation to try and work through,” Ignatow said. “We’re really hoping that insurance will cover our loss, but that process can take months at best. In the meantime, what we’re trying to do is raise the funds that we need day-to-day so that we can keep our doors open.”

One of the ways Growing Tree is trying to recoup the loss is through an online auction via their Facebook page, slated for Dec. 8-10. Support has already poured in from throughout the region in light of the terrible event.

“We live in probably the most wonderful place on Earth,” Ignatow said. “We have had lots of wonderful support from our community members, from our business members, from the MLA of Melville-Saltcoats, Warren Kaeding—we are really blessed and fortunate to be where we are and have the support of our community behind us.”

Aside from the online auction, donations can be made to the Growing Tree Preschool by visiting CanadaHelps.org.

“If anybody wanted to make a donation there, they could they get a tax receipt instantly for their donation and helps provide the funds to us and it’s secure and safe,” Ignatow said.

Currently, there are 23 children at the preschool located at PJ Gillen School in Esterhazy receiving their early education from one teacher and three Education Assistants.

“Preschool is the first time that a lot of these kids are spending a significant amount of time away from their parents,” Ignatow said. “We’re so lucky to be there (PJ Gillen School), the kids get used to being in the actual elementary school, they get used to the teachers who are there, they are allowed to use their gym, we’re allowed to use their library, they get to meet the principal and see other kids that they might know. And it does provide them with this really fabulous opportunity to just get comfortable being in the school before actually have to be in the school and formally learning.”

Growing Tree Preschool opened in July, 2007 with their first class in September of the same year and has been operating continuously since that time. To find out more about Growing Tree Preschool and how to participate in the online auction, visit growingtreepreschool.ca

Ryan Kiedrowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator