Fittingly enough, our own beginning was an unexpected pregnancy. Mary was 39, the mother of two teenagers, and well established in a satisfying career as a child development consultant, when she learned that she was pregnant again.
Since the births of her two older children, Mary had acquired a master's degree in early childhood development, along with a new understanding of the profound importance of the early months and years of life. She wanted her new child to reap the benefits of this new perspective.
But she also recalled the fatigue and isolation of the early post-partum period, and anticipated the inevitable stresses the new baby would bring to personal and family routines. Her friends and professional colleagues were not having babies; Mary knew that this time around she would be without comfort of a peer support network.
Childbirth education and family-centered hospital maternity policies had not been available during Mary's previous pregnancies, and she found this new emphasis on the emotional well-being of families exhilarating. She simply assumed the support network created during prepared childbirth classes would extend into the post-partum period and perhaps even beyond.
"This has been great", she said to Laurie, her childbirth educator.
"And what happens after the babies are born?"
The answer to Mary's question, of course, was that there were not continuing parent support programs, other than self-initiated contact among the newly acquainted parents. This state of affairs had long troubled childbirth educators like Laurie, who all too often found themselves in the role of counselor and role-model for new parents, and who often witnessed the devastating effects of insufficient parent education and support.
Mary's son was born in November, 1976, and soon afterward she and Laurie began brainstorming possible ways to establish a family support network in Concord. They developed a questionnaire, designed to assess new parents' perceptions of the post-partum period and distributed it to dozens of new parents from childbirth education classes around the community. The tabulated results came as no real surprise: While parents felt excited about welcoming a new child into their lives, overwhelmingly the respondents felt confused, isolated, inadequate in some way to their new job, and lacking in basic understanding about how children grow and develop best. They worried about the unexpected stresses the new baby was placing on their marriage partnership, and wondered how best to deal with this. They found it difficult to meet their own needs. They would welcome a community support structure that went beyond mere preparation for childbirth.
No public or private organization in Concord was meeting this clear and urgent need. So from among their friends, friends of friends and associates, Mary and Laurie invited a small group of interested people to meet informally to see what could be done.
Forming Something Wonderful
This core group of 20 near-strangers met irregularly throughout the summer of 1977. We brought a rich diversity of backgrounds, interests and philosophies to those early meetings, and were united only by a shared concern that our community ought to be providing more support to help young families through the magical, yet bewildering and stressful early years with their children.
Some of us were parents who felt isolated from our peers, lived far from our own parents and relatives, and were struggling to balance the often conflicting demands of children, partners, ourselves, and, for some, a job outside the home. We wanted to build a personal support network that would help us become more effective people and parents.
Others among us felt oppressed by the constant demands of full-time child care and household responsibilities. We wanted simply to establish a quality child care center where we could feel comfortable leaving our small children for an occasional escape into adult pursuits. Still others in our group were professionals working with children or families, who observed on a daily basis the powerful effects of both deficient and ineffective parenting skills. We wanted to create a network of parent education services within the Concord community.
After several months of fairly unfocused discussion and many stormy sessions, our goals began to coalesce. We began to envision a warm, welcoming parent-child center in the heart of town that could serve as the hub of a broad range of parent support activities.
It could function as a drop-in center and temporary child care facility for parents who needed to leave their small children for a couple of hours, or where parents could come to play with their small children to introduce them to a wider social setting outside the home. We envisioned the space as providing a model learning environment for young children, staffed by warm, experienced parent-professionals able to model positive parenting skills, answer parents' questions, or simply provide a sympathetic ear and a word of encouragement.
Such a center could also serve as a much-needed "pit stop" where a small person could use child-sized bathrooms and a mom could nurse or diaper a baby in comfortable, supportive surroundings (many of us were all too accustomed to performing these tasks in smelly, cold and uninviting public rest rooms, or in the back seats of automobiles). Our parents' lounge would be a comfortable living room, furnished with couches and armchairs, a coffee pot, refrigerator, and snack area. It might house a lending library of books on topics of interest to parents. Parents could relax there alone or socialize in the parents' lounge while their children were entertained in another area. Parent support groups might meet in the lounge; in the evenings we could rent space for a modest fee to childbirth education instructors or parent training groups; non-profit groups could meet there for free.
It became clear that the center we imagined, if properly designed, could meet the needs expressed by all the various individuals among us. It was a tremendously exciting concept, and one we felt might serve as an early prototype for other communities to work from.
At this point, some of us were eager to charge ahead with plans to open a parent-child center immediately, wherever we could find an empty space, and begin developing programs there. But others urged creation of a formal organization with clearly articulated goals that would give us a stable base from which to operate, an organizational structure within which to focus and coordinate our individual efforts and that could serve as an umbrella organization to sponsor the range of family support programs we envisioned. This latter group prevailed. We set to work formulating our goals and developing a working set of by-laws.
After much intense discussion, we articulated our goals clearly:
- To enhance and strengthen family life by offering educational programs and support services responsive to parents of young children, utilizing both professional and parental competence among our membership, and both supporting and expanding existing community programs relating to family life.
- To articulate to the community at large the importance of early child development in family life.
In November 1977, we incorporated with the New Hampshire secretary of State as Concord Parents and Children, (CPAC), a private, educational, non-profit corporation. In retrospect, organizing formally and incorporating were wise decisions which have served us well in many ways.
We established a board of 20 working directors, responsible for developing CPAC policy and programs and for making all the organization's decisions. Directors still meet monthly, serve on one or more committees, and give time each month to staffing the Children's Place. We adopted Roberts' Rule of Order to give structure to our meetings, and have always kept accurate minutes of directors' meetings.
Directors make many decisions by informal consensus, but all important decisions affecting policy, staffing, major organizational change or potentially controversial issues, are made by formal, recorded, majority vote.
With a large board of directors, it soon became apparent that we would need an executive board, composed of the six officers elected annually, to do much of the organizational space work: developing an agenda for meeting, handling minor operational details, suggesting new ideas for consideration before the full directorate, and so forth. The executive board meets once each month, just prior to the directors' meeting.
From that point on, we determined there was no problem we couldn't summon resources from within our group to solve.
Finding a Home
Finding a site for our center proved to be our greatest challenge, and one which ironically reinforced our belief in the need for a Children's Place, since the entire city of Concord offered so few possible locations that were both safe and attractive for young children.
Our ideal was a big, sunny house, renovated to suit our special needs. We pictured a place with a central downtown location, ample parking, outside play area, and offering easy access to small children and adults toting infants and children. We envisioned plenty of space inside where small children could play at a variety of activities, with additional space for an office, kitchen, bathrooms, storage and a multi-purpose parents' lounge and library. We emphatically wanted our own separate place, not a corner of a church basement or local community center.
Our first step was to acquaint ourselves with state licensing requirements for child care facilities and with local safety and fire codes. The first painful reality was that desirable downtown locations were exorbitantly expensive and that few Concord locations were up to codes and standards for young children. We followed landlords down rickety stairs into damp, dirty, windowless basements they assured us would be "just fine for kids". In one building, an old hotel being renovated, the realtor led us past a huge, airy first-floor space he proudly identified as the future home of an elegant bar and lounge; he then waltzed us downstairs into a former laundry room, a dingy spot he presented as ideal for our needs.
If our search was frustrating, it also strengthened our resolve, underscoring the urgency of our task. So many adults in our community evidently felt that children ought to settle for the least desirable, least comfortable, ugliest of what our community had to offer.
After six months of searching, we finally found what would become our home - a large unoccupied office space in the north corner of a downtown shopping mall. It was hardly the cheerful, homelike place of our dreams, but did offer several advantages. It met all the fire and safety regulations and the space requirements for state licensing; it was close to the center of town, with plenty of parking; it was on the ground floor and easily accessible, and contained one whole wall of windows that brightened the space with natural light and would give children a view of the world passing by - including freight trains coming and going on a track right outside.
We began negotiating with the landlord, who turned out to be a large Massachusetts corporation. The rent was double what we projected we could afford, so we bargained, arguing that renting to a non-profit corporation would provide them with tax benefits, and that since the space had gone unrented for more than a year, they were better off going with us at a lower rate than continuing to collect nothing at all. Miraculously, the corporation agreed. We had a home at a price we could afford.
This reality was both exhilarating and terrifying. What if we signed a lease and then couldn't raise the money to pay the rent? How could we raise enough money to equip the place? Where could we possibly find the right staff? What if we couldn't transform this cold, impersonal space - complete with linoleum floors, cheap wood-paneled walls, and fluorescent lighting - into the warm, inviting parent-child center we had envisioned?
It was our founding mother (feeling far from confident herself, and after spending many restless nights, she later confided,) who convinced us to sign the lease, reminding us of our diverse strengths and talents, recalling all the early hopes and plans, the urgent need for such a center and programs. And so we set forth, The Children's Place was born.
The Early Years (1977 -1979)
- 1978: On June 26, 1978 The Children's Place opens its doors to the public.
- Location of first TCP!
- 1978: Kay Sidway is hired as part time coordinator. Her "part-time" role would lead to her full employment with TCP for the next 34 years!
- 1978: WKXL aired first paid commercial for TCP with 4 public service announcements
- 1978: Membership grows to 88 members and 450 children by end of first year
- 1978: Membership costs $10 per year. Childcare rates are $1.50 per hour
- 1979: Featured in an article by the NH Times (September 12, 1979)
- 1979: 26 Children served each day
The Eighties (1980-1989)
- 1981: Membership fees raised to $12.00 per year
- 1981: Membership rises to 160 families.
- 1983: Landlord does not renew lease. TCP moves to Philbrook Center at NH State Hospital
- 1983: TCP included among 80 quality childcare centers nation-wide as published by Yale University
- 1984: Mailing lists are computerized
- 1987: Childcare fees raised to $2.50 per hour
- 1989: TCP moves to Chenell Drive location
The Nineties (1990-1999)
- 1990: TCP taped for Channel 12 "Health Line"
- 1992: We turn 15. Birthday party held at Kimball Jenkins Estate (June 4)
- 1993: Our name changes to "The Children's Place and Parent Education Center"
- Newsletter is officially renamed "Small Talk"
- 1996: TCP signs a lease-to-buy contract for Burns Avenue location
- 1997: Childcare fees raised to $3.00 per hour
- 1997: Purchase of Burns Avenue location is completed
- 1998: A 34' addition is approved and added, giving TCP much needed space
- 1999: TCP starts a recycling policy
The New Millennium (2000 - 2009)
- 2001: A new playground (CedarWorks) is approved and installed
- 2002: Childcare rates raised to $4.00 per hour
- 2003: We turn 25! Party held at Camp Spaulding
- 2005: A commercial for TCP appears on the community channel
- 2005: TCP enters into partnership with Child and Family Services
- 2006: Childcare rates raised to $5.00 per hour
The Current Decade (2010 - Present)
- 2014: TCP is featured in Around Concord magazine
- 2014: Building undergoes major renovation to improve accessibility and safety