The History of Playmates Cooperative
As World War II drew to a close, women began entering the workforce like never before. This societal shift created a need for childcare, and in the basement of a small church in San Francisco, a cooperative spirit was born.
Incorporated in 1950, Playmates later became affiliated with San Francisco Community College when it provided Playmates with a salaried director. The director developed evening parenting classes, which were eagerly attended by parent members. The nursery school’s daily program became the “lab” for the weekly adult classes. During the 1970’s Playmates received more applications than the morning session could accommodate. An afternoon program was added along with another director and two new teachers. Outgrowing its financial association with the community college, Playmates independently funded its own afternoon program and Playmates school fundraising program was born.
By 1980, Playmates netted an impressive $40,000 from tenacious bake sale and rummage sale efforts. In 1981, without notice, the church basement space was reclaimed. Playmates’ previous efforts provided the financing for the sudden and unexpected relocation cost. Playmates found an empty public school bungalow in the Sunset district and parents got busy. Renovations were not cosmetic there was no plumbing, electrical, flooring, or interior walls! The final result was a large building with separate adult and children bathrooms, a kitchen, an office, two main play areas including a loft for the children, and mailboxes for the sometimes 90 member families. The outside yards include a large paved area for bikes and ride-on toys, walk-in cages for bunnies and chickens, gardens at the entrance and along the site’s side perimeter, and a gracious sand area with two climbing structures and swings.
Starting over with an empty bank account and a new facility, Playmates has, for many years, continued to flourish at this site. The co-op now offers two half-day programs, full-time extended care, and a pre-kindergarten program called Young 5. Playmates has grown from four staff members to eight and six families to 90 families. The fundraising is more sophisticated with ample funding for facilities and staff and scholarships for families available. Unchanged over the years is the family atmosphere, which remains strong, and which members indicate is a very appealing co-op trait. Parents and children find Playmates is a fantastic community for family development and social interaction.
Playmates’ founding director, Emily Stone, was a woman of vision with a true understanding of what children need. Her basic philosophy has endured: a child-centered environment shall be fun, creative, and hands-on. At Playmates children and parents alike dig in the dirt, play in the water, plant the seeds, make the Play-Dough, touch the bugs, sing the song, and dance the mood.