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Creating big things by caring for little ones

 

 

Naptime is ending for the little ones at the Chili Avenue location of Generations Child Care Inc. The air is filled with anticipation.

Once the children have finished their afternoon snack, the real thrill begins: a chance to play and laugh with some eager senior citizens just down the hallway.

That is the idea behind Generations, says Bridget Shumway-known to the children in this setting as "Miss Bridget"-founder and CEO of the area’s largest child care company.

Generations strives to provide intergenerational care and programming within a loving and supportive environment. It has seven urban and suburban locations; 500 enrolled children, ages 6 weeks to 12 years; 195 employees; and 20 enrolled seniors.

The company has grown from 120 employees and four centers since 2005. Revenue has more than doubled during that time frame.

It is hard to tell who is more excited about their imminent afternoon visit-the young ones or their surrogate "grandmas and grandpas," including Shumway’s mother-in-law, who attends the program several days each week.

At the center of it all is Shumway, 55, a married mother of three, who is greeted by children and elders alike with hugs and kisses as she stops by to visit each age-clustered room.

"Years ago, I read an article about long-term intergenerational programs for children and the elderly, and I decided to see if I could launch something like this," she says. "Each population benefits: Children keep the elders feeling young and needed, and the little ones learn tolerance from interacting with older adults."

Personal mission

Shumway always has had a special place in her heart for older adults. While growing up on Honeoye Lake as one of five children of Leonard and Marie Shumway-he, a foreman for Rochester Telephone Co., and she, a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service-Bridget Shumway enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Alice Wisse, her maternal grandmother.

"Grandma and I did everything together, from sewing and playing cards to just talking," Shumway recalls.

Her grandparents had dinner with the clan every Sunday, and her grandmother moved in with the family when she became a widow. But Wisse’s needs changed as she became more frail and needed constant attention.

"I’ll never forget driving Grandma to her new nursing home," Shumway says with tears in her eyes. "It was the worst day of my life."

That experience helped Shumway-who holds academic degrees from SUNY College at Geneseo and SUNY College at Brockport, and previously served as a senior budget analyst for Monroe County as well as senior staff assistant for former County Executive Thomas Frey-plant the seeds for her future enterprise.

Research on intergenerational care, as well as a visit to Stride Rite Corp. in the Boston area to get a first-hand tour of such a program, led her to form Generations in 1993 and open her first site on Coldwater Road.

"The biggest challenge in growing the business has been realigning employee responsibilities necessary to address the changes faced with a larger organization," she says. "There is always a need in any organization for a few more ‘good folks,’ but I can sincerely say that at Generations we are full of good people, something I am grateful for each and every day."

Shumway is open to adding new sites to expand the business. While many firms struggled during the recession and the languishing economy, her business has not.

"We have been very fortunate, and the recession has not taken its toll on us like some other businesses, although we have seen more requests for part-time care," she says.

She attributes that to three factors: highquality programs, excellent staff and a strategic decision made several years ago to provide bus service to the children of families that rely on public transportation.

"Several of our classrooms in a number of our buildings continue to have waiting lists for enrollment," she says.

Today, with a plethora of choices for seniors, Shumway operates intergenerational programs at two of her locations: in Gates and in a building adjacent to St. John’s Home on Highland Avenue.

Together, children and senior citizens do a multitude of activities, from constructing games for upcoming carnivals to planting gardens to cooking and baking.

"On a typical afternoon, seniors in rocking chairs will cradle little ones while singing to them and telling them stories, all under the watchful eyes of our trained staff," Shumway says. "It’s a win-win ar-rangement for everybody."

The intergenerational program at St. John’s Home, which began in 2002, has been wildly successful, CEO Charles Run- yon says. A few years ago, Shumway was

appointed to St. John’s board of directors.

"The relationship between St. John’s and Bridget’s corporation is fantastic," Runyon notes. "Bridget is down-to-earth, cares deeply for her employees and is concerned that people get real value for her services.

"When her staff members stroll down

our hallways with the day care children in tow, you’d never know that they are not our own employees. We made the right choice when we decided to have Bridget provide our on-site day care center. Time and again, she does things for the right reasons."

Lisa Wing, school leader at Genesee Community Charter School, is keenly familiar with Shumway’s professional and interpersonal skills. Shumway was asked to join the school’s 17-member board shortly after the facility opened in 2001.

"Bridget is amazing, and she has been tremendously helpful in lending her expertise, particularly in the area of serving children and families as well as in working with employees," Wing says. "She writes policies that are clear, family-friendly and workable from the school’s point of view."

The charter school, which serves 210 children and is on the campus of the Rochester Museum & Science Center, has benefited from Shumway’s enthusiastic yet level-headed demeanor, Wing notes.

"Bridget is a confident and calm person, and you feel as though you are in good hands from the moment you meet her," she adds. "She is very conscious of children’s circumstances and needs. Her advice is always in the best interests of the children."

Off the job

When not working, Shumway is involved with family and friends. She and her husband, David Seconi, owner of Lightspec Inc., a commercial lighting firm, have been married for nearly 30 years.

They are the parents of Justin, 26, who works in finance in New York City; Matthew, 23, who recently joined his father in the lighting business; and Spencer, 19, a sophomore at Columbia University.

Wilma, a 1-year-old shelter dog, recently joined the family at its home in the Cobbs Hill neighborhood.

Shumway claims her two favorite "restaurants" are on her street: in her own kitchen, at which Seconi cooks all of the family meals; and across the street, at Judith and Jerry Infantino’s home-site of many extended friend gatherings.

"I love Bridget," says Judith Infantino, a neighbor for more than a dozen years. "She’s about as solid as it gets-smart, funny and as practical as they come."

The two couples, along with several others, share meals frequently, golf and walk together and make annual pilgrimages to the Adirondack Mountains for vacation. As a foursome, Shumway, her husband and the Infantinos, have traveled to Italy and New York City.

"Bridget is a rock-solid person," Infantino says. "She doesn’t panic about anything. I might not see her every day, but I always know she’s there. She’s definitely a keeper."

In addition to her involvement with St. John’s Home and Genesee Community Charter School, Shumway volunteers with the YWCA of Rochester & Monroe County, the stewardship council of the Rochester Catholic Diocese and the Early Childhood Development Initiative.

She also is a member of Rochester’s Women’s President Organization and enjoys the group’s monthly meetings.

Other interests include golf, cycling, hiking, swimming and snowshoeing. Currently, Shumway is preparing for a July triathlon in New York City.

"I don’t like to exercise; I prefer to play," she says with a smile.

She also is a fan of novels by Philippa Gregory, Sarah Dunant and Rosalind Miles.

Shumway’s philosophy about children and older adults is straightforward.

"Children require consistent caring," she says. "If we expect them to turn into happy and productive adults, then the interaction with them has to be right. Likewise, seniors have a lot to give. At Generations, our goal is to help them be as independent as they can be, for as long as possible."

Reflecting on her personal journey, Shumway adds: "Each day I wake up able to do something I care about is a good day. …Do what you love and love what you do. Be grateful that you have the opportunity to participate."

Debbie Waltzer is a Rochester-based freelance writer.

Bridget Shumway
Title: CEO, Generations Child Care Inc.
Residence: Cobbs Hill neighborhood
Age: 55
Education: B.A. in political science, SUNY College at Geneseo, 1977; master of public administration degree, SUNY College at Brockport, 1981
Family: Husband, David Seconi; sons Justin, 26; Matthew, 23; Spencer, 19
Hobbies: Golf, cycling, hiking, swimming, traveling, reading
Quote: "Each day I wake up able to do something I care about is a good day. Even challenges are something to be grateful for, especially when there are so many people today that lack just basic necessities."

4/9/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

 

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