Emotional unveiling: A simple ‘thank you’ brings Surrey dad to tears

Rob Palmer says Surrey's expanded Centre for Child Development 'a beacon' for children with disabilities

Five-year-old Nathan Palmer beams during circle time at the newly renovated Centre for Child Development Centre on Dec. 4.

SURREY — “Thank you.”

They’re two small words, but Nathan Palmer’s father Rob cried as the five-year-old uttered them to a crowd. That small but powerful phrase perfectly encapsulates just how far his son has come.

Nathan was born two months premature. When he was born, doctors noticed he had global functioning delays. They later diagnosed him with a neurological condition.

“It affects all his motor skills,” said Rob. “Basically, he’s about a year behind where he actually should be.”

Since he was three, Nathan has been a regular visitor to Surrey’s Centre for Child Development, an organization that serves 2,700 children with special needs throughout the South Fraser region.

On Friday (Dec. 4), Nathan was front and centre at a press conference, thanking donors to recent expansions of the CCD. The CCD was unveiling a completed extension that created 37 new child care spaces for kids, both for those with special needs and without, and a renovation to the therapy wing, which Nathan visits five times a week.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development funded the child care extension to the tune of $500,000, part of the government’s commitment to increasing child care spaces.

Meanwhile, the therapy wing renovations were paid for through a donation of $272,000 from Variety-The Children’s Charity.

To be sure, it was an emotional unveiling.

Watching his son participate in the revitalized therapy wing’s “circle time,” Rob teared up again. He said it’s hard for him put into words how much the CCD has done for Nathan.

“It’s been life-changing for him and it’s been life-changing for us,” he said. “I just adore him, he’s my pride and joy, and the centre has been a beacon for us. Through the whole process, as a first-time parent of course, you don’t get the rule book, you don’t get the guide book, and on top of it to have issues that you have to deal with, it’s tough.”

The CCD and its staff have been a much-appreciated sounding board, Rob added.

“They give you tips and pointers and everything, so when you’re at home, you just continue all those things. The routines are there. And then they thrive, and it’s amazing.”

But the road has been long.

Nathan has gone through speech programs, physical and occupational therapies and more. He attended preschool at the centre last year, and Rob said they decided to hold him back from kindergarten for one year to give him an additional year in the preschool to continue to work on his development.

The work doesn’t just happen at the facility, though. Rob has transformed his home into an obstacle course to aid Nathan in developing his gross motor skills. And he works on occupational therapy at home as well, with things like getting dressed.

“I created games and we just basically keep it all fun,” Rob said.

Walking was she first big milestone they celebrated with Nathan, albeit eight months later than expected and despite his ongoing challenges with co-ordination.

The second was talking.

“Now he can start describing his feelings, he can start describing emotions,” said Rob.

That’s why it was an emotional experience to watch his son speak in front of a crowd, he added.

“That’s what it’s all about to me, the fact that he’s growing and developing so well. It’s taken a lot of time and energy.”

The Centre for Child Development CEO Gerard Bremault noted there are 26,000 South Fraser children and youth with developmental disabilities, and said that number is projected to grow to 32,000 over the next decade.

Bremault praised the province and Variety for their contributions.

“There’s no absence of need for the work that we’re doing and we’re grateful for your support to allow us to do it,” he said.

PROVINCE COMMITS TO CHILD CARE SPACE CREATION

On Nov. 30, the province announced in Surrey it would support the creation of 1,700 new licensed child care spaces in the province, under the third phase of the Child Care Major Capital Funding Program.

These are in addition to more than 2,400 new child care spaces the government supported with $15 million between November 2014 and June 2015.

The move is part of the government’s promise to create 13,000 licensed spaces across the province by 2020.

The 37 new child care spaces at Surrey’s Centre for Child Development are part of that promise.

Child care providers can apply for government funding – up to $500,000 for non-profits and $250,000 for private organizations – until Feb. 26, 2016.

The dollars can be used to build a new facility, renovate existing sites and for equipment, including playground materials.

According to a recent City of Surrey report, there are only 12.4 spaces for every 100 children in Surrey aged 12 and under, with a particular shortage in after-school care and for those under three.

For more information, including application information, visit http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/childcare/major_capital.htm.

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