WASHINGTON — What started as unique job experience right after college turned into a 30-year career for Lisa Clark, of Washington. Clark started the day care program at the United Presbyterian Home in 1985 and on Monday, Aug. 5, said goodbye after 30 years.
Having grown up in Washington, Clark knew she wanted to stay in the area if possible. After graduating from Washington High School in 1985, she went on to Northeast Missouri State, now Truman State University, to study childhood development.
During that time, she spent eight weeks working alongside the activities director at the UP Home and was approached by the assistant administrator, Mike Moore, about the idea of starting a preschool on campus.
“He had been throwing around the idea of having a child care here. Very innovative, nothing had happened in nursing homes at that point and we were really the first ones in the state of Iowa to have that,” she said.
Moore then talked to the board and surveyed parents and decided adding a day care in the nursing home would be beneficial for not only children and residents but also for workers who needed a place to put their kids during the work day. A committee was formed and they toured area facilities to get a feel for how they might run their own.
She graduated college in May of 1989 and spent her summer ordering equipment, getting the facility ready and speaking with consultants. They opened on Aug. 7, 1989 and had about eight children and two workers. When it was first opened, the day care was only for children of staff members of the UP Home.
As those children grew, they began to hit a lull in enrollment and decided to open the day care up to the public. The plan worked and they slowly grew so large they had to create a waiting list.
They also had to create a list for volunteers, she said, because so many were willing and ready to help. It was not all this easy, though, she said. When she started the program as a 22-year-old fresh out of college, she was incredibly nervous, but eager to learn new things.
“You can take all the courses you want, but for real life things, it doesn’t always prepare you for what you need to know,” she said.
Some of the things she has seen a change in over the years are the use of technology and the full circle of having kids who grew up at the day care, then working for the UP Home and bringing their own children to the facility.
Over the years, the center has grown from having two employees to 18 and can now house up to 54 children. When it first started, the center only accepted students for preschool but has not expanded to include infants and five years ago added a summer day camp program for older school aged children. They have expanded their hours to 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. five days a week and encourage interaction between residents and day care students.
Taking the kids to see the residents is something Clark will miss, she said, because they all enjoy each other and getting to laugh and learn together. For her next career move, Clark will be going to the WACO school district where she will transition to being in the classroom and assisting teachers. She is looking forward to the move but will miss the love and affection from the kids the most.
“It’s been a great run,” she said. “It will be a new adventure.”