After school care is something many Cariboo families rely on and its availability today is thanks in part to the pioneering work of the gentle and kindhearted Debbie Cordingley.
A lakecity woman born and raised, Cordingley first started looking after children 30 years ago after going back to school for early childhood education. Herself a mother of two, she already had ample experience taking care of children and youth.
“I’ve always liked kids, I come from a family of seven kids so I decided to do something with children,” Cordingley said.
Cordingley said there was a part of her that always wanted more children and grandchildren so being able to look after the children of the community filled that need. It also helped, she quipped, she could always send them home to their parents at the end of the day.
Her first job was at Scout Island preschool before she helped open the preschool at Miocene and eventually opened a preschool, after school care and daycare in 150 Mile House called Huckle Buckle Daycare, at the 150 Mile House Fire Hall, which she rented from Fire Chief Stan McCarthy.
“We started out, I think we had 10 kids and we grew to have 25 kids within the year,” Cordingley said.
She worked at the fire hall for 10 years from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. before being invited to operate her after school care program from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. out of 150 Mile School Elementary directly by then principal Barry Sale. Cordingley said that she was very thankful he gave her a classroom in a portable and that the school had continued to house her in a classroom, as some after school programs take place in hallways.
Cordingley settled into the school nicely and it’s where she’s been for the last 20 years. In that time Cordingley said she’s loved the children’s energy and how, when looking after them, every day is different and never boring.
As she’s gained more experience, Cordingley has learned it’s best to stick to a loose schedule when caring for children. Sometimes she said they’ll have a lot of energy and need to run around outside, other times they’ll be content indoors with crafts all day, it’s all a matter of learning to read their collective mood.
“Most days I play it by ear, just to see what they need to be doing that day so that’s why every day is different,” Cordingley said. “And you get to play, we got the best little creek behind our school and we spend hours at that creek when spring comes catching frogs and walking up and down the creek pretending we’re gold prospectors.”
Prior to her running her after-school care program SD27 did not have any official after school programs for some reason, Cordingley said. She felt at the time there was a real need for it as children were going home alone after school to rural areas with no close neighbours and she felt her program would be a safer alternative.
When asked how many children she’s looked after over the years, Cordingley simpled laughed and replied hundreds. In fact, recently, she’s had children come to her program whose parents she looked after when they were their age. Getting to watch them grow up, from Kindergarten to age 10, has been one of the most rewarding parts of her job.
“Because it’s a small community I got to know everybody, I like it. I’m going to miss everybody when I go, that’s for sure,” Cordingley said.
Despite all the good times she’s had looking after the children of the community, Cordingley has decided it’s time to move on. Her husband of 34 years, Bruce J Cordingley, passed away in 2017 while her elder daughter also passed away recently.
Looking for a change of pace and scenery, Cordingley plans to move down to Vancouver Island to be closer to her younger daughter and to do what she’s passionate about which is gardening, kayaking, hiking and biking. At some point, she added with a chuckle, she’s sure she’ll find herself working in a school with children again.
“I’m moving to the island because of the healing process for me. I’ve lost a lot in the last two years and it’s just time to go,” Cordingley said. “The ocean is calling.”
With her departure in mind, Cordingley would like to thank the community for all the support she’s received over the years, especially in the last two. She said it’s been amazing to live in this community and be a part of such a wonderful school.
To those who will follow her in running this program or any like it, Cordingley said the main things you need to have to be successful are a sense of humour and patience. Laughing she remarked then you to can last for a long time and put your 30 years in. The woman taking over her program, Karlee Brown, actually used to go to her daycare and is a wonderful successor, in her opinion.
Cordingley and her friends, Wendy Reissner and Karlee Brown, would like to invite the community out to her retirement party which, while it was going to be a surprise, she said they told her about to make sure she’d show up.
“Debbie is loved by so many and is going to be missed by hundreds,” said Reissner. “I’m sure her love and laughter has reached far throughout all these years.”
On Sunday, Feb. 23 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. all are welcome to come out to the 150 Mile House Fire Hall and bring some snacks for the snack table and wine for later. Her final day of work will be on Tuesday, Feb. 25.