Community Roots

Bonnie Coate: Community Roots, Driftwood Daycare

“My daughter recently told me that one of the biggest experiences of her life was that she got to help volunteer at the daycare center. I think that's probably not allowed at this point, but it was nice for me to be able to share with my children the daycare center.”

Driftwood’s first Director in 1971

Bonnie Coate


Bonnie Coate: My daughter recently told me that one of the biggest experiences of her life was she got to help volunteer at the daycare center. I think that's probably not allowed at this point, but it was nice for me to be able to share with my children the daycare center.

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Aidyn Dervaes: Welcome to Community Roots, a community oral history project based in Olympia, Washington about how people come together to make change and create new possibilities for themselves and their neighbors. I’m Aidyn Dervaes.

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Today’s story is part of our series on Driftwood - a childcare center at The Evergreen State College. In 1971, Driftwood Daycare was initially conceptualized as faculty support at the College. However, the evaluation of campus needs led to the center opening to student families as a priority. A small abandoned farmhouse located on Driftwood Road became the grounds for the center up until the mid-‘80s.

Fifty years after Driftwood opened its doors, I stumbled upon a few boxes at the Campus Children’s Center, where I began working in 2018. The boxes, marked “shred,” contained photographs, newspaper clippings, postcards, and letters that began to reveal the history of the center. I was inspired by the thoughtfulness of the teachers of the past who had compiled the collection and wanted to find a way to celebrate it before the items were tossed. I embarked on a project that would become intertwined with Community Roots.

The early days of Driftwood led me to understand how we can instill the importance of community from the beginning. For me, the Center provided a sense of community that I grew up without and would become a major point of stability. It was inspiring to see how the Center had been creating this experience for students and children alike since 1971. Of course, it was the collective of parents, students, and children that created the multi-generational community that Driftwood became.

I am thankful to have had the opportunity to speak with many members of the community, including Bonnie Coate, who we hear from today.

Bonnie: My name is Bonnie Coate. I was Bonnie Gillis when I was the director of the daycare center at Driftwood at The Evergreen State College, but I got divorced sometime after that, and I reclaimed my maiden name. I'm retired as a social worker, but I was also an artist. I have been very active and I remain active as an artist.

Aidyn: The Evergreen State College offered students a unique way to shape their own learning. Through a contract, students were empowered to write their own course curriculum and decide what it is they would be learning from it. When the college opened in 1971, many students took the experimental opportunity, which would become a definitive part of Evergreen’s curriculum. Bonnie Coate was one of these students.

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Bonnie: I had gone to the University of Washington as a student and then when I had my children I didn't graduate. I still had one more year. I had three children. They all went to a preschool, and I was a parent helper and then I was the teacher at that preschool for about eight years. As they graduated from there and I had more time on my hands, and as the college was opening and I wanted to graduate - I wanted to get my degree - I heard about the opening of Driftwood. I did open the daycare center as a contract. So I was a student and it was a contract.

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It had been organized by staff and faculty. It already existed as a possibility, and then when they hired me I opened it. So originally, there were more staff and faculty children than there were students because they're the ones that were the impetus behind it.

Aidyn: Driftwood cared for the children of Evergreen through a play-based and nature-oriented curriculum focusing on the child’s needs, rather than their academic growth. The center concentrated on intuitive care, guided play, and encouraged exploration. It embraced the unstructured rhythm as well as some experimental practices that trickled over from the main campus.

Bonnie: The curriculum philosophy that made a lot of sense to me was that children needed to have experiences with sand, mud, and water. They needed to get their hands dirty, and they needed to be able to play with a material that they could mold.

We always had Play-Doh available. We always had blocks. We always had dolls and puppets and everything available to them. We had some field trips to the water, so we would go frequently to the beach. They would have boots and they would have shovels and we would find beach life, clams, etcetera. We would try to encourage cooperative play as they chose, as the children chose.

Aidyn: Bonnie ran Driftwood from 1971 through 1979. But Driftwood Day Care was just the beginning of childcare on campus.

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In the 1980s, the college decided they were in need of a larger facility to accommodate the growing need for care. Driftwood became The Children’s Center in the year 1986. With the change in facility, also came a change in structure. The Center now strove to employ permanent staff to guide student workers.

Bonnie: In 1971 it was tremendously exciting to be in Evergreen, and to be able to be a part of that - a contributing member of the community providing a service that enables other students to go to school - is very rewarding. I can't think of a more definitive way of saying it. It was just a very rewarding experience.

Meg Rosenberg: Community Roots is produced by Window Seat Media. This story was a collaboration between Aidyn Dervais and Bonnie Coate. Aidyn is one of our Community Roots cohort members. She brought this story idea to us, interviewed Bonnie and helped to edit this story, and produced music for this series. Elaine Vradenburgh did the audio editing for this story. Funding for this series was provided by the Thurston County Heritage Grant program, the Marie Lamfrom Foundation, ArtsFund, the Community Foundation of South Puget Sound, and from community support from people like you. To learn more about Window Seat Media, hear more stories, or make a donation to support this series, visit

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