ADRI van Mil's blond curls bob as she navigates the play space at Gymboree Play & Music North Vancouver.
Adeptly climbing the various multi-coloured structures, the three-year-old exudes energy and inquisitiveness, pausing only to ask the odd question of her mother, Heather van Mil, the centre's general manager.
It's hard to believe that at 17 days old, Adri underwent open heart surgery after being born with congenital heart defects. Adri received excellent care at B.C. Children's Hospital - where coincidentally her father, and Heather's husband, Scott, works in the chemistry lab as a medical lab technologist - and is now a healthy and incredibly active little girl.
"It's such an important service that they provide, the whole care from beginning to end is just incredible," says Heather, 27, keeping a watchful eye on her little one.
Interested in giving back, Heather has organized Jeans Day fundraisers at Gymboree Play & Music for the last two years. Jeans Day is an annual fundraiser for the B.C. Children's Hospital Foundation, seeing people of all ages and backgrounds purchase a button or pin at participating retailers and wear jeans on Jeans Day - this year's is set for Thursday, April 26. Last year's initiative raised $1.3 million for the foundation.
Heather plans to once again sell buttons and pins at Gymboree and has decided to increase the North Vancouver centre's involvement and has organized a month-long campaign, which includes hosting a different Jeans Day-themed event each Friday, culminating in a party on April 26.
While the van Mil family currently resides in North Vancouver, Adri was born in Maple Ridge, where they had been living at the time.
"We didn't know ahead of time that there was anything wrong with her but when she was born, she was slightly blue," says Heather.
Believing there to be something wrong with Adri's heart, doctors had her transferred to B.C. Children's Hospital. She was eventually diagnosed with congenital heart defects, mainly transposition of the great arteries and she had several holes within her heart.
At 17 days old, Adri underwent open heart surgery. Throughout the ordeal, B.C. Children's Hospital staff were tremendous, says Heather.
"Both my husband and I were completely amazed at the level of care," she says.
Staff sat down with them and fully explained Adri's condition and showed them photos of children who'd had the same operation and were now in their teens. Even though Heather and Scott weren't able to hold Adri immediately following her surgery, staff still involved them in her care, for example, allowing them to wash her face and perform other basic tasks.
The procedure was a success and Adri now goes back to B.C. Children's annually for a number of heart tests and is involved in a study examining the effects on children with similar diagnoses and resulting surgeries related to their cognitive development. Adri has been testing very high in terms of her development.
"We're lucky to have that extra support and to know that she's doing amazingly and she's not limited in any way," says Heather.
Adri isn't on any medication and is active in swimming and dancing, enjoys hiking with her parents and is, of course, a big fan of Gymboree Play & Music.
"We do developmental play and music programs for parents and children from birth all the way up to five years," says Heather, who's also the general manager of the Vancouver Gymboree location.
Staff work to foster creativity and confidence in young children and programs have been designed by experts in early childhood development to help develop the cognitive, physical and social skills of children as they play.
Core programs include Gymboree Play & Learn, and Music. Others include Art, Sports, Family and School Skills. Centres also offer a host of special events, as well as birthday and group parties.
"All of our programs are on a registration basis, but we do offer free trials to anyone who wants to come and check it out," says Heather.
Gymboree also offers drop-in play times, open to both current and non-members.
"It's really important to have a good balance of structured play and free play time, so we have approximately 10 hours every week of unstructured play time where our members can come for free and the general public can come for a drop-in fee," she says.
As part of Gymboree's participation in Jeans Day, entry to all Open PlayGyms, a dropin style free play for children five and under, throughout the month of April is by donation with all proceeds and staff time being donated to the B.C. Children's Hospital Foundation. Open PlayGyms are held: Tuesdays, 9: 30 a.m.12: 30 p.m.; Wednesdays 4-6 p.m.; Thursdays 5-7 p.m.; and Fridays 1: 30-4: 30 p.m. PlayGyms are free to members and $8 for non-members. No registration is required.
Staff have also organized special jeans-themed Friday Open PlayGyms. On April 13, participants are encouraged to wear jeans and cowboy hats for a country and western-themed event, featuring rodeo and farm activities and the April 20 PlayGym is 1980s-themed. Both events will be held between 1: 30 and 4: 30 p.m.
To cap off the initiative, a Jeans Day Wrap Up Party will be presented Thursday, April 26 from 1: 30 to 3 p.m., featuring a host of activities, raffles and music. Tickets are $10 for members and $20 for non-members. Registration is required, email nshorebc@ gymboreeclasses.com or phone 604-739-1190.
For more information on Gymboree Play & Music, and its upcoming Jeans Day events, visit www.gymboreeclasses.com or www.facebook.com/gymboreevancouverandnorthshore.
For more information on Jeans Day, visit bcchf. ca/events/events-calendar/ jeans-day.