HUNDREDS of parents have entrusted the care of their young children to Libbie Dark – perhaps their child’s first non-family carer – over the past 21 years.
Mrs Dark was childcare team leader at the Portland Leisure and Aquatic Centre (PLACE) creche until she announced her retirement from the position recently.
Her warmth and generosity with cuddles and reassurance helped many mothers, fathers and carers separate from their little ones for an hour or a little longer while they went to the gym, for a swim, to an appointment or to go shopping in town for a short time.
“It’s been an absolute privilege to be able to do that,” Mrs Dark said, noting that children at the service were aged from six weeks to pre-school age, with primary school-aged children also there during some school holidays.
“The service has been a good way to give a parent a break – and I didn’t want parents to feel guilty about leaving their children.
“That was something I wanted when my kids were little, and there wasn’t anything like that around then.”
Mrs Dark said working at the creche gave her the opportunity to see children achieve small things that were big to them such as learning to climb steps by themselves for the first time, or to separate from a parent for a short period but be comfortable about that.
“It was important to me that I was asking a parent what they would do to calm a child – have that continuity, perhaps get a toy ready for their arrival, and give children some security to know they are safe.”
Some days were hectic, with hourly changeovers of children.
On occasion the service – which includes a small fenced-in outdoor playground – would have 19 children at a time.
Naturally, that frequently made the space abuzz with activity and filled with bright toys, prams being rocked, books being read, yelps of excitement and sometimes tears.
“I’ve had an awesome team to help us manage, and I feel those girls there are awesome: we’ve just had to learn to rock with what we’ve got.”
Taking on the position for centre managers the YMCA in 1999 was an excellent move, Mrs Dark quickly realised.
“I was looking for something in the childcare field because that’s what I knew, but I never expected it to go on for this long.
“I didn’t know a single person when we moved here that year, just my husband and three primary school-aged kids.
“It wasn’t shift work which I’d been doing at the Warrnambool hospital on the midwifery ward.”
Mrs Dark said enforced time off during the COVID-19 lockdown period had given her the chance to slow down and really appreciate what was important to her.
“At the moment I’m enjoying the quiet and the peace,” she said.
She is also now a grandmother to two girls, which she loves, so will have her share of cuddles still as restrictions begin to ease.
However, she won’t rule out a return to the workforce somehow in the future, and said she looks forward to seeing families she has worked closely with out and about rather than at the creche in the coming months.
“I’d really like to thank parents and the community for giving us their children to enjoy.
“I hope they continue to use the care service when it resumes because it an awesome team there.”
PLACE centre manager Kerri Jennings thanked Mrs Dark for her wonderful service.
“She has impacted so many of our little people's lives,” Ms Jennings said.
“We thank you Libbie from the bottom of our hearts for your ongoing commitment, dedication, thoughtfulness, enthusiasm and love for our YMCA families – we wish you all the very best.”