07/07/2010

Tiny Tots Center Feels the Love of AFT Volunteers

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Delegates help local child care center polish new facility

AFT members know that an AFT convention does not really kick off until delegates have christened the confab with an act of solidarity and community bonding.

This year that event took place at the Tiny Tots Development Center, where more than 50 volunteers, wearing white T-shirts printed with the bold blue message, “AFT Gives Back,” helped the center’s staff move into a new facility.

Volunteers lugged boxes, placed furniture in classrooms, weeded and landscaped, and pounded the last nails on roof and wall construction. At the same time, master puppeteer Ingrid Crepeau spent a morning training teachers and working with 4-year-olds to craft puppets, write a song and mount a parade to herald the new digs.

They were helping Tiny Tots staff—members of the Washington Educators in Early Learning/AFT—put the final touches on a dream more than seven years in the making, sprung from the vision of Helen Hicks, Tiny Tots’ active founder, after whom the new $1.1 million building is named.

Hicks began Tiny Tots 41 years ago in her living room with her own two children and three others. Responding to the great need for high-quality child care in the low-income Seattle community, Hicks has expanded to five sites, serving 200 children ages 6 weeks to 12 years, some of them the grandchildren of the first enrollees.

Hicks and her daughters, Angelia Hicks-Maxie and Jacqualine Hicks-Lenard, are unstinting in their praise of the AFT, which has been working hand in hand with the staff and directors of the center in recent years to raise the bar on the quality of care and provide enrichment to growing numbers of students. They credit the union for its work with legislators like state Rep. Eric Pettigrew—who was at the center on Wednesday. He has introduced legislation that would allow collective bargaining for early child care workers, who are employed by the state, and would raise pay scales for them.

Hicks-Maxie, who is Tiny Tots executive director, says that despite loans and support from the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund and the Bank of America, the new center could not have met the high goals of early childhood best practices and accreditation requirements without the labor, materials and support of the AFT. It’s a collaboration, she says.

“When I drove up here this morning and saw all the volunteers,” she told the workers, “I said, ‘if you want a job done right, it takes organized labor.’”

“This is what happens when we make common cause with community,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten, surveying the colorful, spanking new space and playground. She thanked the volunteers for their hard work and the staff for their dedication to children. She also took a moment to unveil a plaque in memory of “Miss Felicia” A. Hollinquest, a beloved teacher who died last year and who embodied the center’s motto: “Where loving care comes first.”

“When you bring labor and community together,” affirmed Jeff Johnson, special assistant to the president of the Washington AFL-CIO, “this is the kind of quality you get.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you AFT,” exclaimed Hicks-Maxie.