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Drop-in centre open for business

HAMISH M ACLEAN
Last updated 13:12 05/12/2012
 Ocean Cowan

PLAY TIME: Ocean Cowan, 4, drops in for a quick read at Te Kohekohe’s opening with a group from Hillcrest Kindergarten who played with the toys and studied the books set out on the tables.

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Parents and young children in Kaikohe have a place they can call their own.

Te Kohekohe - a drop-in-centre that offers free workshops, information on services and a place to relax - opened its doors to the public on Friday.

Nga Kakano Puawai o Kaikohekohe is an initiative funded by the Education Ministry that's bringing the drop-in centre and all its surrounding activities to town.

Co-ordinators say a gap has been filled.

Te Kohekohe gets its name from the same legend as Kaikohe: How Hone Heke and his mother survived by eating the berries of the kohekohe tree on Tokareiria - Monument Hill - while their hapu was being attacked.

Project co-ordinator Kelly Yakas is praised for her work on the centre.

"I wanted the history of Kaikohe to be a part of this place and to make people feel proud of who they are," she says.

"The fact that they have it within themselves to be resilient, to be resourceful and know that they have the capabilities to participate in education and go further.

"It's a way of using a story that's already part of our whakapapa - our history - to allow us to move forward and to grow and develop," she says.

There was no place in Kaikohe for parents to come and change nappies, feed their babies or even to take five minutes out of their day to relax with their children before Te Kohekohe, she says.

The site holds workshops to teach the importance and value of play in early childhood development - and offers a place for early childhood service providers to connect with parents.

Te Kohekohe is on Broadway adjacent to Greenworld Health and Lifestyle and the space is being provided by its owner Mike Fitzgerald.

"One of the things that a lot of people in business don't realise is that it's good to be in business and make money but part of the deal is that you have to do something for the community," he says.

He says he sees Ms Yakas as a future leader in the community.

"In the nine and a half years that I've been in town, I've never ceased to be amazed at the goodness and the aroha and the warmth of the people here," Mr Fitzgerald says.

He describes his role in Te Kohekohe as facilitating the support and care that exists in the community.

He calls the drop-in centre "a safe place for young mums".

A group got together in July to discuss initiatives, but Ms Yakas says the drop-in centre didn't really gain momentum until October.

The semi-circle tables the children will use were made by a parent volunteer. The art on the walls was donated by a patron as well.

Home-based care, early childhood services, Child, Youth and Family services, Ngapuhi social services, members of the business community and parents off the street joined at the opening services.

The centre will help to ensure positive transitions from home to early childhood education and then from early childhood education to school.

Activities will also be taken outside - things like painting in the park will offer kids even more stimulation.

Entry to Te Kohekohe is free. The play centre is open Monday to Friday from 10am to 2pm.

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It's for everyone with children aged under 6 years old, but Ms Yakas hopes to attract children who are otherwise currently not in preschool centres.

- Northern News

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