THE BALANCE SHEET OF HOLLDAY PRESCHOOL
A reflection given by Max Chang at Holladay United Church of Christ on May 21, 2017 (Sixth Sunday of Easter/Preschool Sunday)
1 John 4:7-12
Holladay United Church of Christ was founded in 1953 as Holladay Community Church â€“ to minister to the needs of Protestant Christians living in the south Salt Lake area.Â In 1954, one of the churchâ€™s members, Agi Plenk â€“ a specialist in early childhood education â€“ saw the need for a preschool in this area, and so she started Holladay Preschool in 1954 with the help of many other dedicated volunteers, and classes were soon held in the new church building.Â That makes Holladay Preschool one of the earliest mission outreach projects of Holladay Church.
To tell us about some of the exciting things happening at Holladay Preschool these days, and why he loves the school, is Max Chang, who is a preschool parent, and just completed a four-year term as Treasurer of the Preschool.Â Max says heâ€™s not much of a church-goer, but he wanted to share his love of the school.Â Please welcome Max Chang.
(Robert J. von Trebra)
Good morning, my name is Max Chang. For those who know me, I do not get up early on a Sunday morning unless itâ€™s for golf, fishing or skiing. Yet, here I am for two reasons. My love for Holladay Preschool and my grand respect for the Holladay United Church of Christ and Pastor Bob since this is going to be his last Preschool Sunday.
With me today, is my family. My wife, Edee, daughters, Genevieve, who is a Holladay Preschool graduate and now finishing up 1st grade and Gisele who currently is in the three year old program here at Holladay. I also see many friendly faces here in the crowd and thank you for joining us.
As some of you know, I have served as Treasurer for the preschool for the past four years and rolled off last month and handed the reigns to Holladay Preschool alum and parent, Mindy Whiting. So normally, when I’m talking about the Preschool, I’m discussing its financials and a bunch of numbers. Today, I’m going to stray a little bit and while I’ll be talking about the Preschool’s balance sheet, I’ll be more figurative than financial.
But first, I would like to share with you my and my family’s journey to Holladay Preschool. To understand this journey is to understand my Utah roots. My parents immigrated to Salt Lake City in the sixties from Taiwan to attend graduate school at the University of Utah. It was part of the brain drain movement from East Asia and they were one of the first, as my father likes to call himself, Taiwanese Pioneers, to settle in Utah. In fact, I am probably one of the first, if not first, Taiwanese Americans born in Salt Lake City.
Growing up close by in East Millcreek was an interesting experience for me. I did not attend Holladay Preschool, but a combination of the University of Utah, the Montessori and Challenger. Even though, I consider English to be my native tongue, I actually spoke Taiwanese, a dialect of Mandarin, until I started attending school. It was then, I first realized, I was a little different. I spoke Taiwanese to the other kids and nobody responded. I looked around. I was the only one with black hair. I was the only one with fried rice for lunch instead of peanut butter sandwiches. I felt like an outsider, a stranger in my home community. As a double minority, there were countless times since that I am made to feel like an outsider. For example, I commonly get asked this question:
“Where are you from?”
“Salt Lake City.”
“No really, where are you from?”
“No really, I was born at Holy Cross hospital on South Temple.”
“You speak English really good.” ”
Good?” I would reply.
Nonetheless, I love Salt Lake City and Utah. People are kind and generous, the mountains and landscapes are beautiful and it’s the home of the Utah Jazz, my first love. I still keep in touch with friends as far back as Kindergarten. Going to both college and graduate school out of state, living and working out of state and country, I have always promoted and sometimes defended Utah as its self-appointed Ambassador. And no matter how many times I may have moved away, I have always come back home.
And so let’s fast forward to when Edee, who like my parents is from Taiwan, and I became parents, exactly seven years ago yesterday. Little Genevieve at 4 lbs. 4 oz. enters our lives 6.5 weeks earlier than her expected Independence Day Birthday. As I held her in the NICU, I was facing the thought that she will probably face not only the same obstacles I had growing up in Utah but perhaps more so because she’s female.
A few months afterwards, we were having dinner with our dear friends, including Jani Iwamoto, she asked where we were going to put Genevieve in preschool. Surprised by the question, I replied to her, since she was barely 3 months old and we really hadn’t thought about it. She looked at me straight in the yes and said, “Holladay Preschool. You know, you’re supposed to call the day when the baby is born.”
Both of Jani’s children, now young adults, attended Holladay Preschool. She said how much they loved it and that they would sometimes ask to go back to the playground when they were in elementary school. Her close friend and neighbor, Laura Nilson, taught at the school. She would make sure Laura talks to us about Holladay Preschool. We MUST put Genevieve in Holladay Preschool!
The very next day, I rushed down to the preschool office only to be told that there was already a waiting list. Genevieve would be #15 on the girls list and probably get in. “Wait to hear from us in 18 months and you’ll have 24 hrs. to accept.” For 18 months, we did not consider any other preschool. We were set on Holladay. However, 18 months later, I called to find out our status only to find out that the office had made a mistake. Genevieve wasn’t #15 but number #31 and with only 15 girls getting in for the 2 year old program, there was a good chance we would need to look elsewhere. Long story short, she did get in but not until after a lot of anxious moments which led to doubts whether we were making the right decision.
Edee and I looked at the school’s website saying how diverse it was. Yet the picture of the kids did not show one child of color. More doubts. I secretly pondered, “Is this really the right school for us?” But we knew Jani and trusted her word and experience. One reassuring thing did catch our eye and that was that Agi Plenk had founded Holladay Preschool.
As many of you know, Agi is a legend locally and nationally for her remarkable work with children. Holladay Preschool was the first preschool in Salt Lake County, if not all of Utah, as it was established when Agi help establish Holladay Church now the Holladay United Church of Christ. Some of the children attending the preschool struggled with severe behavior problems. At times, Agi, had to explain to parents that their child was too disruptive and could not return.
The response of one mother changed Agi’s approach to these children forever. “You are the one person in the community who can help,” the mother said, “and you’re turning us away.”
As a result became the birth of The Children’s Center, which is committed to providing comprehensive mental health care to enhance the emotional well-being of infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families. Edee and I have been long time supporters of the Children Center. Edee has served on its board for six years before rolling off last year and we have witnessed many remarkable stories of families that have been helped, some out of impossible situations.
So if Agi had her hand in establishing this preschool, we were going to attend Holladay Preschool.
I love that the school does not have a litmus test for attending. No questions about our faith, income or our parenting style. There were no interviews or tests. Its play based centricity was a refreshing change from the concept that a child’s education is an arms race. Oftentimes, parents don’t understand the diminishing returns that oftentimes come with too strong of an academic focus at such a young age. We see this as a marathon and that play is as important if not more important at this stage of their young lives.
I probably shouldn’t say this since I saw Laurie McBride earlier here today, but when I first contemplated to sign up for Treasurer, it wasn’t really for altruistic reasons. As I mentioned at the beginning, I do not like getting up early. So I figured, by serving on the board, I could bypass the frigid process of waiting in line at 5:00am on a February morning to ensure that my children would get into the class we wanted.
Ironically, becoming Treasurer was the real wake-up call that I needed for me both professionally and personally. I really began to really understand the Preschool beyond our classroom and the financials. I started to see a holistic view of the preschool that most parents aren’t privy to. Again, I’m here today to talk about the Preschool’s true balance sheet, a balance sheet that does not appear in QuickBooks, bank statements, excel spreadsheets, graphs and charts or any other financial document.
Let’s start with our assets. I debated for quite some time of which assets to list first for fear that one might think I was listing in order of importance. The reality is every asset is equally and interlockingly important and without these assets unified, the balance sheet falls apart.
Since we just heard from these wonderful who sang so beautifully for us today, let’s start with the children. By the way, my girls love the songs they learn at Holladay. They sing them on the way to skiing and even when we were on vacation in Cancun over Spring Break. Genevieve and Gisele did an impromptu concert in the hotel room and even made me text videos of their singing to Linda and Laura because they love their teachers so much.
Speaking of music, I’m tempted to just quote Whitney Houston’s lyrics from “The Greatest Love of All” to describe this asset because, without a doubt, the children are our future and if we teach them well, they will lead the way. Fortunately, my better judgment and lack of a signing voice has derailed that idea. Plus, Edee hid my karaoke microphone that I bought myself for Christmas.
Edee and I are here because we want the best for Genevieve and Gisele and for them to start to learn how to navigate this ever complicated world. I am sure every parent here wants the best for their child. When I come to school and I hear the laughter and sometimes tears on the playground, see the art projects that are not identical, the smiles on their faces, friends holding hands, my heart melts. Not only have my daughters made friends here, I believe they have made lifelong friends.
One thing I love about the Preschool is that we don’t have a McDonald’s drive in-like drop off/pick up system. By bringing the kids to the classroom, we’ve fortunately come to get to know many wonderful families as well as the teachers at Holladay Preschool. Many of these parents attended Holladay Preschool when they were kids. If you were one of those, please raise your hand.
In order to avoid an Oscar like moment with the orchestra cueing me offstage, it would be impossible for me to name them all but I would be remiss if I did not mention one in particular who I feel epitomizes the spirit of a Holladay Preschool family. Gina Larson and her incredible family including her husband Scott, children Ririe, Ansel and Bell and her wonderful parents Ed and Myra Hansen. Myra, as you may know, was a past director of Holladay Preschool before Nancy Piggott and Diane Stallings. I first met Gina in Carolyn Tebbs and Jessie Newman’s 2 year old class where Ansel and Genevieve were classmates. We happened to be paired up as Co-Op parents on more than one occasion as Edee was on bed rest with Gisele. We also served on the board for two years together.
Gina was so welcoming to our and every family from the very beginning. She always greeted the children with a smile especially if one of them was having a tantrum in the hallway. She’d always give me encouragement as I risked cardiac arrest giving kids a ride in the Big Room. Myra and Ed, would also pull me aside when they saw me and ask me how Edee was doing and I was doing and how Genevieve was doing. Myra would share experiences being the Director, knowing it would help me better manage the Preschool’s finances.
Gina arranged the class to have its own soccer team, the Blueberries, and â€œvolunteeredâ€ Scott to be the coach. Let’s just say that Genevieve was having a hard time adjusting to Edee being on bed rest and really would rather do the Frankenstein walk than playing soccer. She’d dress up in her soccer uniform with a tutu and tiara and rarely would participate except standing there with her hand in her mouth. Finally, one day, after many games of exhibiting enormous patience, Coach Scott had Genevieve start the game by kicking the ball. Believe it or not, she kicked the ball, not once but a few times! She even gave Scott a high five! The most memorable moment for me was not the soccer, per se, but the spontaneous support from the wonderful Holladay parents led by Gina who cheered for the Tutu Tiara girl. The Blueberries was not just a team but a village.
Fortunately, families like the Larson’s are not the exception but the rule which what makes Holladay Preschool great. I’ve seen countless parent volunteer hours for the Benefit Bash, Carnival, class projects, and building our new playground. This includes, planning, fundraising, engineering and even physically lifting each (very heavy) block for the retaining wall. Their contribution is priceless.
We have an unparalleled core of teachers here at Holladay Preschool. Some who have been here for more than 25 years and a couple for less than a year. At first, I was confused if it was required for a teacher to be named Lori, Laura, Loralee, or Linda. Besides an array of alliterative names, our teachers have in common kindness, love, compassion and very importantly, empathy. We are proud to call many of them, our friends.
Some may think, “Hey, it’s a play based preschool. All they do is play and make crafts. How hard can it be?” It is so much more than that. The teachers here prepare so much for our children. They spend countless hours at home creating imaginative and engaging projects and programs. It’s play with a purpose that is developmentally and emotionally appropriate. Too much of our society is focused on IQ and we forget about EQ. We need a balance and that is what our teachers excel at.
When Edee was on bed rest, I became Genevieve’s primary caretaker and understandably, it took a toll on a 2 year old. She started to behave differently. We were worried, obviously, but Carolyn and Jessie were so good in reassuring us that is the way Genevieve is telling us she is in charge and that she will be okay. They were so incredibly patient and loving with her and slowly but surely they got her back. Our other teachers we’ve had, like Linda Layton, Laura Nilson, Loralee Christensen and Linda Wilde all exhibited the same love and compassion. Gisele is looking forward to having Julie Iorg next year and has declared she is not ever leaving Holladay Preschool. Megan Woodward, Lori Gee, Diane Magnum, Cathy Thurman, Janice Peterson, Lori Bergstrom have all took turns being great influences on our children through substituting, Enrichment and Summer/Winter Fun classes. While, our girls have not had Candice Greene or Amy Moon for teachers, I know how wonderful these two are. They along with Megan are wonderful parents we were fortunate to have children in the same classes together. The teachers take so much time to write reports, assessments, meet with parents and put together memorable scrapbooks that are lifetime keepsakes.
Carolyn even taught Genevieve how to make balloon animals so well that Genevieve, at the time just five years old, went to a 5 year old class at the Children’s Center to make balloon animals for them. Their Executive Director, Doug Goldsmith, wanted to show the 5 year olds at the Children Center what a 5 year old is capable of doing.
Julie and Sharon are simply terrific. They’re the face of our preschool and keep things running smoothly and effectively. As you could tell by Sharon’s presentation to the children today, she also substitutes from time to time and is so good with the children.
When I became Treasurer, the school was in search of a new director. I had recommended that we find someone with good QuickBooks skills but the search committee said they wanted to find someone who would be a great director first and if she came with QuickBook skills, that would be an added bonus.
So they end up hiring someone (forgive me, Kristi) with basic QuickBooks skills, at best. It was the best decision they ever made. When I first met the new director, I recognized my old high school teammate from the Debate team, Kristi Stout, now Kristi Thompson. We had not seen each other since I graduated a year before she did. Not only was it great to reconnect but an absolute honor to work with her these past four years. I cannot even begin to list the accolades she’s achieved in four years. I even call her the QuickBooks Queen now.
My task was to bring in a system that was accurate and transparent. Kristi ensured we achieved that while maintaining and celebrating the human element of the preschool.
Whenever I said we should assess late fees, she would tell me the backstory and I would immediately agree with her. She wanted the preschool to be a greater part of the church and the community. When our dilapidated playground and retaining walls needed replacing, she spearheaded the project. I believe the children from the preschool and church all enjoy the playground. Once I was at the playground while the girls were playing and a woman came with her grandchild and started pulling weeds. I thanked her and she turned and thanked me. “We lived next to the preschool and we just wanted to thank you for bringing something so wonderful to our neighborhood by helping keeping it clean.”
In other words, Kristi made sure we never strayed from the mission of the preschool as Agi envisioned it and to be a part of this community.
Holladay United Church of Christ
The final asset I wanted to address today is the Holladay United Church of Christ. You are an invaluable, indispensable and integral foundation for Holladay Preschool and the Church equally shares the success stories I have shared today.
The Preschool has been the mission of the Church for over 60 years and the Church’s contribution is so significant in both capital and volunteer equity. The Church provides our preschool facilities rent free. That’s right, rent free. The Preschool helps cover operational expenses and whenever, we can, provide additional funds for various projects. This allows us to keep our tuition at a moderate and affordable level and provide for our wonderful teachers.
HUCC is a very giving group. Forgive me for not listing all of the amazing things you do but they provide meals for those less fortunate. They provide a safe place to stay for those in Family Promise during several weeks in the summer. They provide a meeting space for those battling personal demons. We are not Holladay Preschool without Holladay United Church of Christ and I truly believe in my heart and my experience that the converse is true.
Church members have always stepped up to the plate in providing their expertise and labor to improve the Preschool. Let’s take the new heating system as an example. We were very fortunate to have someone like Lyn Felton who had the professional expertise and acumen for the project. When the heating went in the Preschool out for nearly two weeks in the winter two years ago, we were fortunate that the weather was relatively mild and we could continue to hold classes. I had estimated the negative economic impact if we had to close the school for that period of over $50,000. So when it came to start the replacement of the heating system, it was without hesitation the Church said they would do the Preschool wing first. The children came first and members of the church attended bundled up the last two winters.
I’ve had the pleasure of serving with several members of the church serving on our board including Laurie, Sandy, Kayla, and Kate and am sad I did not have the chance to serve with Don and Ginny who have joined the board for next year. I’ve seen Craig, Mark, John, Carl and other members doing a variety of improvement projects including installing security cameras, cleaning up garbage, landscaping and generously donating during our fundraisers and so much more. Kerry used his expertise to prepare civil engineering drawings for the sewer system. I’ve worked closely with Rori and Steve to ensure that they knew exactly what the financial shape of the Preschool is and they have given me very helpful advice and guidance. Peter has been so helpful in coordinating projects that we’ve worked on and Roger has been a great leader of the Church.
Church members like Edith, Shirl and Yvonne come in voluntarily to sign checks for the Preschool. I am particular grateful as this was an important procedure to ensure our financial transparency. For example, one of the rules we instituted was that neither the Director nor Treasurer could be check signors on the Preschool account.
Finally, let’s talk about Pastor Bob on his last Preschool Sunday here at Holladay United Church of Christ. Pastor Bob is the third pastor I worked with while at the Preschool. He is engaged, humorous and caring. He attends every board meeting and provides thoughtful, constructive and candid feedback. I’ve even seen him sporting pink hair from the hairspray booth at our annual Carnival. On behalf of the Preschool, thank you, Bob and best wishes on your next adventure.
Again, I apologize in advance for not naming everyone individually but please know that at least from my perspective, you are all exceptional and wonderful examples for our children at the Preschool.
Every balance sheet has it assets and it has its liabilities.
In this case, the liabilities I see are more of what concerns me about the future. Will detractors make us forget our roots? Will we forget our mission? Will we forget to provide for those who are less fortunate and maintain a robust balance in the Thayne Stark Memorial Fund?
That’s why I’m here. I want to share my personal story about Holladay Preschool and why I love this place. I always have a sense of urgency to avoid complacency, something that could disrupt this special place. So please:
Let’s not ever forget what Agi Plenk has envisioned.
Let’s not forget to preserve the mission to have a play based preschool so children can enjoy their childhood
Let’s not forget the children past, present and future of the Preschool, especially those who may be less fortunate.
Let’s not forget the teachers, staff, families and church members who make this a very special place for the community.
Finally, let us always remember to provide a place for someone like me and my family to feel welcomed and not feel like outsiders.
Thank you very much for allowing me to speak today. It has been a tremendous honor to be a part of this special place as both a parent and a volunteer.