Community Roots

Keith Eisner: Community Roots, Driftwood Daycare

“It was so child-oriented. It was also a place that I went in thinking, 'Okay, we're going to teach the kids something.' I learned quickly at this age, it's not a matter of teaching them; it's a matter of letting them play, and as they play, they are learning.”

Former worker and assistant director at Driftwood in the ‘70s

Keith Eisner


Keith Eisner: It was so child-oriented. It was also a place that I went in thinking, “Okay, well, we're going to teach the kids something.” I learned quickly: okay, at this age, it's not a matter of teaching them; it's a matter of letting them play, and as they play, they are learning.

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Bryce Black: 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 Bryce.

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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.

Today we hear from Keith Eisner, who began working at the Driftwood Childcare Center when he was 25 years old. Keith is a writer, teacher, and active member in his community.

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Keith: I came to Olympia in September, early September of 1973. One day, I left my brother's house in Bellingham and hitchhiked down to Evergreen. Either the first or second day I was there, I went to check out the daycare center on Driftwood Road. It was a good quarter mile from the campus. I said, “Hey, I'd like to apply.” And Bonnie Gillis, now Bonnie Coate, said, “Alright.” And that was it. 

And it was a lot of women coming – homemakers – coming to school again. We weren't that far away, in the ‘70s, from the idea that women were supposed to go home. It was new ground.

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Bryce: I was immediately drawn to the story of Driftwood. Being raised by a mother who worked and went to school, I was in daycare and after-school care programs throughout my early childhood. My experiences in these places, both positive and negative, have led to me having a deep appreciation for thoughtful child care where children are respected and treated as complex human beings. Reading through the Driftwood interviews it was abundantly clear that the people who have worked there genuinely cared about the children and families they served.

Keith: Childcare, good childcare, is family care. Bonnie was so gentle and so thorough. She'd just look at you and you'd feel like, this person knows who I am. She would be the person who could put the kid's behavior in context: The parents are doing this; the mother’s returning to school. She wasn't disclosing anything. It's just what she would observe. I think really good teachers, anybody who works with children, realizes that they only see a little bit. And do they see things that the parents don't see? Yeah, but you have to temper that with humility.

There was a boy who was really antsy. We'd all try different things on him. And I just saw Bonnie come in one day, and you know those little itty bitty chairs they have, and she sat down in the chair next to him, just still. Quiet. Paying attention. She's just being with him. And he calmed down. That was really an oh my God moment. So simple, but so true.

The staffing was good so that if there was a kid who needed one-on-one attention, we had enough. Bonnie and other people would cover the other kids. There was a little boy, and he came in. His face was red and he was crying. So different than a sort of demonstrative, short-lived cry. It was a deep, long from the heart cry. Just cried and cried. I just held him. I held him, and held him, and rocked him, and walked with him, and held him. It was at least an hour. A long time. But there's something meditative about holding a crying child. You can't be doing anything else. It's totally absorbing. And you just learn to breathe with it. You learn to wait and be calm yourself. I think that was probably the most profound interaction that I had with a child.

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Toward the end of the quarter, maybe the quarter was over, but we organized a big ol' trip to the beach. To my memory nobody brought those swimsuits or towels or anything. We just were gonna play on the beach. We told the kids, “Now, you don't want to go in, and we can't go in because you don't have a change of clothes and stuff.” And then we said, "Okay, you can wade in a little bit. Take your shoes off..." A kid went in, and a parent went in, and they went in the water! Then all of a sudden, all of us, all of us went in. We got soaking wet, and it was just glorious. And I remember I was one of the main ones who said, “We can’t go in. We can’t go in.” And then [makes splashing noise] I was one of the last ones to go in. [laughs]

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That's another thing with children - for humans - but it's particularly with children. Sometimes all of your plans, all of your precautions, all of the contingencies just get swept aside and you come up to what they call that irresistible force. You just go with it.

Meg Rosenberg: Community Roots is produced by Window Seat Media. This story was a collaboration between Keith Eisner and Aidyn Dervaes. Aidyn is one of our Community Roots cohort members. She brought this story idea to us, interviewed Keith, and produced music for this series. Bryce Black helped to edit this story. 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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