From her office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Karen Leibold, director of work & family programs, talks about what Stride Rite has learned about providing on-site child and elder care for workers and the community.
Q: What are the critical success factors in making the intergenerational center work?
A: The staffing is the most critical ingredient. You have to have a staff that sees itself as [a group of] learners. The [people] also must be professional and be willing to take risks. They can't say, 'We already tried that, it won't work.' [It's important to have] a staff that's willing to be cross-trained. You [need to have] somebody who works with 2-year-olds, but who also knows how to work with 85-year-olds. [You need to have] a leader in the center who knows what [he or she is] doing, gives the staff [his or her] full support and truly is a professional. The center director makes all the difference in the world because [he or she is] the one who sets the tone.
Q: What are the challenges?
A: It's hard trying to integrate two programs and two populations that sometimes have similar needs, but sometimes have very distinct needs. We're meshing two staffs with two different areas of competencies. The site has to be special because you need to meet the needs not only of the kids and the elders, but also of the staff, the families, the visitors and the company. It's a lot of hard work, but I think it's really worth it.
Q: What have you learned about setting up a curriculum for the intergenerational center?
A: We had been doing child care for so long that we knew what to expect [caring for children]. However, with the intergenerational center, it was really hard initially for the staff to say, 'Well, we don't know how this is going to turn out,' and have it be OK that you don't have to be the experts. The center has been open for three years now, and it's a radically different place today than it was even a year ago. It just keeps evolving. Just to hear children (when they're in the dress-up corner) saying things like, 'You be the mom. You be the dad. You be the grandma.' We didn't hear that five years ago. That's the kind of stuff you can't plan in a curriculum. That's one of the reasons why we do it.
Q: What have you learned about running the center from an organizational standpoint?
A: It's really important to have the structure down pat organizationally, so that you know who reports to whom, and who's responsible for certain decisions. You have to be clear about where the responsibility of the center begins and ends. It's also important to have a liaison between the two to make sure that the center doesn't have a policy that's not in compliance with a corporate policy. For example, we have to make sure that if there's a snow day, somebody makes sure that they notify the center that the company's closing. You have to be very clear about policies, but there also has to be good communication.
Q: Did you think that adding the elder-care component to the program three years ago was a good idea?
A: In the beginning, I was skeptical. I think that one of my reactions was, if this is such a good idea, why isn't anybody else doing it? I've surprised myself. [I've come to the point at which] I no longer would do child care without elder care.
Personnel Journal, July 1993, Vol. 72, No.7, p. 51.