Leslieville Lives; Stories from the ‘Ville – Marie Bamford
Meet Marie Bamford. Walking into Bruce Junior Public School for the first time, I time travel to my own childhood; hand-painted murals, bright blue walls with a splash of every colour in the rainbow, laughter and chaos. I can sense the friendly, casual atmosphere before speaking to anyone. I follow the sound of kids and adult conversation and find the Parenting and Family Literacy Centre. I immediately see Marie among the young moms (no dads that day). We wave to each other, but before I get to her, I hear, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’ My neighbour, Kate and her 2 kids, frequent the Centre. When I tell her I’m doing Marie’s story, she smiles. ‘Oh perfect. We love her’. I ask her why. ‘She’s so Zen and has created such a personable and relaxed atmosphere here. She’s kind of like everyone’s mom and grandma. Such a natural. And she’s hip. Her taste and knowledge of music is awesome!’ A great introduction and much needed, as I later find that Marie, not surprisingly, was a bit shy talking about herself.
I make my way to her. A warm, welcoming smile and handshake greet me and just as I sit down and pull out my pen and notebook she puts out her hand. ‘Hang on’. She points to a young mom and her boy, and says ‘It’s their first day here’. I’ll be right back’. She has that instinct. With a roomful of young moms and their toddlers I guess you kind of have to. She’s been doing this work for decades and her reply when I ask how she’s managed to do it for so long is ‘patience’. Then laughs. ‘For the most part I just oversee, take over a bit when moms see their friends so they can catch up, and run the activity schedule’. She’s being humble. ‘What I really love are the small world connections. Even you! You ran into your neighbour here. In the world they say there is six degrees of separation. Here in Leslieville & the Beach it’s more like 2 degrees.’
Marie describes her work as a bit of a ‘calling’. She first started out in the Parent & Literacy Centres through Mary Gordon, who started the movement. First as a volunteer, then relief staff, then running this Centre at Bruce. I like how she describes the centre as a ‘movement’ vs ‘programme’. It was over 30 years ago the Literacy Centres started. Mostly in high need neighbourhoods like Regent Park and the Leslieville of days gone by. She praises Mary Gordon, who has established quite a few of these Centres in schools over the years (government funded) and left some years ago to begin Roots of Empathy, another movement within the school system which has spread around the globe.
Marie has been running the Parent and Literacy Centre at Bruce since 2009 and prior to coming to Bruce worked at Toronto Rosedale Early Years Centre. She lives in the ‘Manger’ (Main & Gerrard) but when her 4 boys were young, she brought them here. Wow, I ask ‘why here?’. ‘It feels safe and supportive’. Kate said the same. And adds ‘Marie gives us great advice when we’re stuck. One of her gems, among many, is ‘don’t tell a child what they can’t do’.
Marie describes some experiences she’s had at the Centre with new moms with kids as young as 2 or 3 days. ‘They need help. They need a break. They need some comfort. Particularly single moms. And immigrant moms who don’t speak the language. I’ve worn a number of different hats in here; Mom, Therapist, Support Worker, Grandma, you name it. And I’ve seen some beautiful friendships blossom here’. She smiles. Her smile is the warm and fuzzy kind that makes you want to hug her. The more I talk to her, the more I understand why everyone loves Marie.
As I look around and see little tykes from crawling age to around 6 I notice they are all ‘engaged’. The Centre isn’t just for hanging out. They have activities and a schedule that includes games, songs, stories, circle time, and snacks. I look around and ask Marie if any dads come to the Centre. ‘Yes, I had 5 dads coming not too long ago, but circumstances change. Work opportunities etc. and they drop off’. So what about your sons? Do they bring their kids here? She makes a sad face. ‘No grandchildren – yet. But I have this’. And smiles. As closing time approaches (1:00 p.m.) I hear a chorus of ‘Bye Marie’ as everyone prepares to leave. They’ll be back. Tomorrow or the next day. And why wouldn’t they?
The Parenting and Literacy Drop In Centre is open for all kids 0-6 years Monday to Friday from 9am-1pm.