A group of Oakland parents, working with Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center, has extended the life of an Oakland childcare center that was slated to close its doors next month.
In April the Oakland-based Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay, fiscal sponsor for the Olam Yeladim childcare center, announced that it would not renew the program’s lease when it expires Aug. 31.
But last week, three months of intense fund raising, strategic planning and advocacy, by parents and program administrators, culminated into a one-year extension of the lease.
“I’m very excited,” said Josh Kramer, who runs the center that sits on the Oakland-Piedmont border. “It would have been a shame if the programs had disappeared.”
Now parents and administrators say the long-term health of Olam Yeladim depends upon the center’s ability to raise funds and recruit participants for a program that many thought was dead.
“We’re on a heightened state of alert and we are enrolling people as fast as we can,” said Henry Epstein, one of the parents involved in the drive.
Marianne Smith, another parent, said she is confident that enrollment goals will be met and cited fund raising as the key to building a viable long-term program. The parent group has already secured $16,000 in pledges and is looking to raise more.
Olam Yeladim serves about 95 children from the East Bay, Jewish and non-Jewish. The program, which serves preschool- through elementary school-age children, provides foreign language training, sports, arts and sewing, among other activities.
The story of the center’s demise, and resurgence, is a complicated one involving three separate agencies – Oakland’s Jewish Community Services, which operates the child care center, the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay and the Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center, based in Berkeley.
In April, the federation cited declining enrollment and an estimated $70,000 budget deficit at the child care center when it decided to shut down the program.
Stacey Simon, the federation’s director of marketing and public relations, said a lack of parental involvement at the center also played a role.
“There had been some concern that there wasn’t active community participation,” Simon said.
But parents say the real problem was a lack of communication between the federation and the community. They were caught off-guard by the April announcement.
“There was a lot of miscommunication,” Smith said. “We didn’t know what was going on. But as soon as we found out, we were upset.”
After the April announcement, parents worked to develop a business plan and negotiate the lease extension. One parent even agreed to serve as a guarantor should the program run a deficit next year.
Throughout the process, the parents worked with the Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center, which was assigned by the federation in April to oversee the program.
Last week the parents and Berkeley-Richmond center secured a one-year lease extension with an option to bail out early if Olam Yeladim does not prove financially viable.
But Michele Schwartz, president of the Berkeley-Richmond center board, said she is confident in the financial plan.
“I feel very good about it,” she said. “I think it’s a very solid plan for the coming year.”
Smith credited the federation, which is supporting the move through the Berkeley-Richmond center, for reconsidering its April decision.
“They listened and they were willing to reconsider,” Smith said.
Simon, of the federation, said the parents’ surge in involvement was the key to shifting the federation’s approach.
“The federation has committed itself to partnering with the community to provide services,” she said. “You see the support and you work with it.”