Unheralded heroes helping families

New mom Ashley MacArthur wasn't sure where to turn in late 2013 as life seemed to crumble around her.

She and her husband, Josh, and their firstborn, Adelay, moved to Woodstock after a December 2013 fire destroyed their home.

Doctors informed the family that Adelay, born Nov. 24, 2013, a month before the fire, suffered from Aperts syndrome, a rare disorder which causes skeletal abnormalities. That meant many trips to the IWK Children's Hospital in Halifax.

Over the next nine years, Adelay underwent 21 surgeries and more await her.

Ashley needed a friend. Luckily a Google search to find family activities in Woodstock delivered a friend — in fact, several friends for the couple and Adelay.

The MacArthurs discovered the Valley Family Resource Centre, which over the next eight years played a pivotal role in the life of the couple, Adelay and her three young siblings, six-year-old Elowyn, four-year-old Orianna and 18-month-old Théoden.

"They have done so much for our family and have really seen us through some difficult times," said Ashley. "They have been a rock in my life over the years, a safe place to go and talk when I just needed someone to listen."

Valley Family Resource Centre director Heidi Horner said the MacArthur family is an example of why the centre exists.

"Ashley is one of our success stories," she said.

Horner said Ashley and her family make the most of the centre's activities, programs and services.

She said Valley Family Resource Centre, located on Richmond Street in Woodstock, and its partners offer a wide array of programs and services designed to help struggling families find better tools and methods to nurture young children.

Horner said most of the public needs to be made aware of her staff's dedication and success despite fiscal challenges.

"I wish people could see what we do here," Horner said. "No one would leave with a dry eye."

Horner explained everything the centre does is designed with a focus on parents and children together.

She said they offer parental support programs, including parenting classes to teach the basics of parenting.

Horner explained the centre provides services directed at a vulnerable population. While poverty is an issue, the centre turns no one away.

"Vulnerable is not only social economic," she said.

Horner explained that the programs begin before the child is born, noting they offer prenatal classes in Perth-Andover, Woodstock or wherever needed. If expectant mothers cannot reach a class, the centre provides taxi service or gas cards or goes to their home.

Horner cited Woodstock Dr. Debi O'Leary's vital role in prenatal classes, attending them at no charge.

"To have a doctor give up their time to come and do that, there are not many centres — we may be the only one — that has that," Horner said.

As soon as the baby is born, Horner added, the parents can immediately plug into a wide array of parenting programs, including an infant support group hosted in Florenceville-Bristol.

Horner said the centre depends heavily on solid partnerships with professionals and organizations from Nackawic to Perth-Andover.

She said the centre works closely with Public Health dietitians, social services, the Valley Food Bank, the Multicultural Association of Carleton County (MACC), Early Intervention, local churches, libraries and others.

She said the common denominator among all partners is the child's health.

While it has few resources to offer financial help, the Valley Family Resource Centre, with the support of its partners and donors, provides gas and grocery cards.

Horner said the food bank directs infant products such as diapers, wipes and formula the centre's way.

She said a church group called Love Atlantic recently held a diaper drive, delivering thousands to the centre. Unfortunately, Horner added, only a few are left.

Horner said the centre staff deliver remarkable services and programs under dire financial restraints.

She said the centre was launched in 1997 by the federal Public Health Agency of Canada with annual financial support. The province added $30,000 annually through various departments, currently the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

Remarkably, the funding has remained the same for all 13 provincial centres since 1997.

"Can you imagine trying to pay a staff today based on 1997 dollars? It's impossible," Horner said.

She said her attempts to garner the attention of the MLAs and MPs fell on deaf ears. Although Carleton MP Bill Hogan is now the minister of the funding department, Horner said he has never acknowledged receipt of her letters.

While the centre is a registered charity, Horner said the overworked staff have little time to direct towards fundraising.

She said one staff member is applying for grants and reaching out to influential people in the Upper Valley.

"Seems like money for everyone else," said Horner. "We kind of refer to ourselves as the forgotten third cousin."

Ashley and Josh MacArthur share Horner's and her staff's frustration. They, like many families, know the importance of the centre's programs and services.

"They go above and beyond to support the emotional, social, mental and physical health of families that take part in their programs," Ashley said.

Anyone looking to learn more or support the Valley Family Resource Centre can do so online at vfrc.ca. It has a donate button.

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun