Day Care: Bridging The Generation Gap

The Stride Rite Corp. Has long been a pioneer in family-oriented employee benefits. In 1971 the Cambridge, Mass., shoe manufacturer opened one of the nations's first corporate day-care centers. The facility now has a capacity enrollment of 55 kids, 15 months to 6 years, and this yaer welcomed some new participants: seven elderly people. Stride Rite's Intergenerational Day Care Center is believed to be the first mixed-age on-site center in the country.

The project is the brainchild of Stride Rite chief executive officer Arnold Hiatt, 63. "To me, it's an investment, an economic investment," he says. "To the extent that you can help your colleagues with their problems, you integrate them onto the team and you have an advantage over your competion." A few years ago, Hiatt ordered up a study to see if mixing the generations would work at Stride Rite. The 1988 survey indicated that about 25 percent of the workers had some responsibility for an aging parent and another 13 percent expected to face the issue in the next five years. Hiatt forged ahed with a $700,000 facility with wings for each group, joined by a common area.

The first elderly participants arrived in february. Although there are only seven now, the center can care for 24 old people, community residents as well as relatives of employees. Karen Leibold, Stride Rite director of work and family programs, attributes the vacancies to newness of the program. "It takes time to develop your enrollment," she says. One of the women is 73-year-old Josephine Campenelli, grandmother of Rona campenelli, 25 a Stride Rite real-estate analyst. "I feel tons and tons of gratitude toward Stride Rite for providing such a service, "says Rona.

State subsidies; Stirde Rite says it cost about $150 to $170 a week to care for a child, and $140 for an oleder person. Employees pay according to income (the company's charitable foundation makes up the difference). other participants pay the full rate, although state subsidies are available to those who need them.

The elderly people and the children spend some time together but they also have separate activities. One day recently, children i nthe four classrooms climbed on gym equipment while the elderly women discussed curent events in the library. The women also read to the children. After Eva DaRosa, 79, finished the story "Caps for Sale," Vanessa Doleyres, 5, praced happily about singing sale." her verdict on Stride Rite's social experiment: "I like doing things with the ladies." Adds Doris White, 71: "The children give us life."