Road to recovery after son's death
Rachael Thomas always wanted to work in early childhood, but when she and her husband Steve lost their son Renzo in a car crash, it put their plans on hold.
Nearly five years on, her dream will be realised when they open an early childhood centre in Whatawhata's old church - on the same highway as the fatal accident.
It was March 18, 2009, when the family vehicle, in which Renzo was a back-seat passenger, was struck by a truck-and-trailer unit on State Highway 39 near Ngahinapouri.
The truck driver was later found guilty and sent to jail for 21 months on one count of dangerous driving causing death and three counts of dangerous driving causing injury - adding to his long list of previous driving offences.
"It's quite ironic really, that the road has stolen part of our life but then it's also linked to rebuilding it as well. It's like it has come full circle," Rachael Thomas said.
All hands were on deck at the Magnolia Tree Childcare centre on Tuesday afternoon in preparation for the January 28 opening.
Sawhorses and doors sat on the deck as tradesmen passed through the rooms and power tools buzzed incessantly.
Building work began early September, and had been full-on and "chaotic" at times, Steve Thomas said.
But Rachael Thomas embraced the challenge of being project manager for the build, something she hadn't tried before, and loved.
"I've seen every single stage of it," she said. "Now we're in the exciting bit, like getting the toys."
Her passion for early childhood began with involvement with Playcentre.
Although she isn't a qualified early childhood teacher, she has about six years of experience, and all her staff are fully qualified.
The Whatawhata community was excited about its first childcare centre, which would have links with the local school, Rachael Thomas said.
She and her family live in Ngutunui, near Pirongia, but when they saw the old church for sale it felt like a sign.
And they were further convinced after meeting people in Whatawhata.
The community has since come forward with offers of help and resources, seven children have enrolled and there have been many more inquiries.
The centre will be able to accept about 60 children, and has rooms and outdoor play areas for under- and over-twos.
Plastic items will be few and far between, and the philosophy is that children learn through real-life experiences.
Pupils will also drive the curriculum with discovery projects - whatever the children are asking questions about could become the basis for a project.
"What we do emerges from the ideas of the children," Rachael Thomas said.
And these experiences were the strong roots which would grow healthy children and adults, said Mrs Thomas, hence the Magnolia Tree name.
She can't wait until the team of six qualified teachers starts next week, and is delighted it includes someone who taught all the Thomas children - assistant manager Christine Todd.
From the week beginning January 20, the centre will be set up ready to open, so people will be able to come through and meet the teachers.