Donna Simon: Community Roots, Driftwood Daycare
“One day, I heard, 'Ugh, here come the kids from the childcare center..." And it became my mission to turn that around to: 'Hey, here come the kids from the childcare center!' It took us a long time to do that, years to do that, but we did. It was great.”
Retired Director at The Children's Center at The Evergreen State College
Donna Simon: One day, I heard, "Ugh, here come the kids from the childcare center..." And it became my mission to turn that around to: "Hey, here come the kids from the Childcare Center!" It took us a long time to do that, years to do that, but we did. It was great.
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.
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.
Driftwood Daycare was just the beginning of childcare on campus. 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 1986. With the change in facility, also came a change in structure. The Center now strives to employ permanent staff to guide student workers. Today, we hear from Donna Simon who was hired as a classified staff member in 1987.
Donna: When I came in ‘87 we had a typewriter and a telephone and a mimeograph machine. That's all we had. We didn't even have mail service. We had to walk up the campus to get our mail. We had to walk up to campus to use a copy machine because there were only a few on campus. And we didn't get voicemail for a while. So we were a skeleton crew around here. [laughs] And look how far we've come in that time.
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We wouldn't be a center if it wasn't for the student staff that support us. We’d get photography students, who would then bring that skill and those abilities and that classwork into the center and do some amazing photography projects with the children. We’d get woodworking students who came and they built our benches, the wooden benches. They milled those out of the lot of trees that were felled from building the Rec Center. They came in and they measured the children from their heels to the back of their knees to see how big they would need to be. And they involved the children in every step of the process and made a bench for each classroom. That's what community is all about.
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Aidyn: Although I had worked at the center since 2018, the first Bubble Blow I was able to attend was in September of 2022. Each classroom gathers a cart full of supplies: sunscreen, umbrellas, buckets, bubble wands, walkie-talkies, water bottles, and cameras. They walk up the campus to Red Square, some classrooms singing songs while others let the organic chatter of children pursue. The square is reached, the bubble stations are set, and they begin to fill the sky. I watched as a group of new Evergreen students poured out of Purce Hall to join us. They came with excitement and questions. Asking where they could get a job application, and how they could get more involved. Members of staff filed out from the library, and children’s parents started to arrive from the nearest parking lot. We are able to come together for a few hours to acknowledge and celebrate the multi-generational community that Evergreen is. The event comes to a close when the children decide, and we haul our wagons and bubbles back to the center for snack.
Donna retired in 2021 but left behind this important community-building event. I asked Donna about how the center was able to start this event.
Donna: The first one we did was in the fall of ‘87. And it was precisely because of that remark I heard when we went on a walk up campus and I heard someone say, “uh, it's the childcare kids.” And I couldn't think of another way to kickstart a relationship except to get up on Red Square and invite everybody to join us. And so I bought tons of little bubbles, and I mailed out flyers all over campus and stapled a bubble wand inside each one, and mailed them around campus inviting them to come out and help us fill the sky with bubbles.
The next year I put bubble bottles in toilet paper tubes and asked the mailroom to distribute them. They were probably cursing that year. [laughs] But we just kept it up and kept it and kept it up. It took about five years for the President to come out, but the people who had something to do with our management–student employment, the payroll office, admissions–people who had something to do with the childcare center came out. And then faculty started to bring their classes out. And it just got bigger and bigger, and it was amazing. But that was the reason it was a community-building effort that worked.
Aidyn: I was curious to know Donna’s opinion on what the center needs from the community today.
Donna: I think it needs a continuation of what it's managed to achieve. I think that there is a level of trust that was built up, and I think that needs to continue. For student activities that fund us, it's like, “Oh, my God.” Those students on that Student Activities Board, most of them don't have children, they really have no concept of what child development is all about, and yet, they continue to support us financially. [Acoustic music begins playing in the background] And a belief in that we know what we're doing and we're not just babysitters. It’s not just a place to dump your kid, which any teacher in their right mind has felt at some point in their career. When will society in general stop treating us like babysitters and a place to dump their kids. We're not seen as professionals very often.
My dad always said, “Love what you do because you'll never work a day in life if you love what you do.” And I truly believe that.
[Acoustic music ends playing in the background]
Meg Rosenberg: Community Roots is produced by Window Seat Media. This story was a collaboration between Aidyn Dervais and Donna. Aidyn is one of our Community Roots cohort members. She brought this story idea to us, interviewed Donna 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 www.windowseatmedia.org.