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Opportunity’s knock opened door for her firm’s expansion

Close to 30 years ago, Barbara-Ann Mattle was working out of a small, one-room office when a knock at the door changed the course of her organization.
 
The CEO of the Child Care Council Inc., Mattle led the organization with the help of one employee, a half-time secretary. They did some work locally with child care organizations and as a referral agency to these centers but did not work on a large scale.
 
That changed with the unexpected visitor.
 
"It was a now-defunct Boston-area organization called Work/Family Directions that wanted to give us a contract to work with IBM as a referral agency for their employees looking for child care," Mattle recalls. "We were a small organization, but they were coming with a $10,000 contract. It was such a huge change for us."
 
The contract infused Child Care Council with revenue, and it set the organization on a path of growth that continues today. Within three years of gaining the IBM Corp. contract, the agency began working with Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Corp. and Bausch & Lomb Inc.
 
That early experience helped give Child Care Council a more businesslike approach to growth, Mattle says.
 
"From them on, we’ve had a strong business mindset because those corporations trained us," she says. "We were required to treat their employees the way they treated their clients. It set the tone for how we would be as an agency."
 
The Child Care Council continues to take this approach, developing its relationships with corporate partners as an important part of its work.
 
But Mattle also has sought new and creative programs for the organization to take on, a quest that has helped it, with more than $5 million in annual revenue and 56 employees, better withstand the effects of the recession and stand out among similar organizations statewide.

Expanding service
The Child Care Council serves primarily as a resource and referral agency, working with parents to connect them to proper child care settings and with child care centers to meet state requirements and best serve the needs of parents and children.
 
But for Mattle the mission has never been too restrictive. So while the organization serves the same functions as other child care councils across the state-such as taking phone calls from parents seeking information on child care centers-it also has expanded into new areas.
 
One such area is a resource recycling shop. The organization accepts donations of scraps of fabric and other materials from local groups, selling them to customers for $4 a bag.
 
The shop is popular with artists and children, Mattle says.
 
"Little kids love it because they find things that we put on the shelves and think, ‘No one would ever want this,’" Mattle says. "We get a lot of artists and people at child care centers who are doing projects."
 
Many functions are more connected to the organization’s mission. The parent referral agency, for example, goes far beyond distributing information.
 
"There are a lot of different ways parents can interact with us," says Renee Scholz, referral services coordinator at the Child Care Council. "We have a community database for things like WIC (Women, Infants and Children), we’re embedded with the Department of Health and Human Services and we do presentations to job-service orientation groups.
 
"But we’re not just handing out information; we really work with them to solve their problems."
 
The Child Care Council also has sought state contracts for many of its functions. It has a contract to administer reimbursements to more than 400 child care organizations for items such as meals to children, distributing more than $100,000 each month.
 
The council also works with smaller, in-home day care centers that usually involve an adult caring for a few children. These smaller settings are exempt from some requirements of larger centers but still need certain oversight that the Child Care Council provides.
 
These expansions have helped the Child Care Council grow and provided more services to parents and child care providers in the area, says Child Care Council chairman Chris Yuskiw.
 
"She’s always looking for better opportunities to better serve the community," Yuskiw says of Mattle. "She’s a great leader and is so well-versed in this area that she knows the environment out there so well."
 
The search for new contracts has allowed the Child Care Council to weather the recession better than many similar organizations, Mattle says.
 
"We’ve been very flexible in looking for new services for the community, but our approach has always been to make sure we figure out how to pay for it before expanding," she says.
 
One expansion announced this year is a partnership to educate child care providers in the Great Lakes basin about toxic chemicals and how to provide safer products. The contract has the Child Care Council working across the Lake Ontario region, stretching up to the state’s far northern reaches, Mattle says.
 
The program, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, uses a framework created by the Children’s Environmental Health Network. It will have the Child Care Council providing training and on-site assistance for child care providers, and those that complete the training are endorsed by the Eco-Health Child Care program.
 
"We need to learn more about what these chemicals are doing to our children," Mattle says. "Just going into that field is a huge expansion for us. I was looking at a map of the area we’re covering and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’re going to be all the way to the North Country.’"

Tackling challenges
The agency has had its challenges. This was the first year when its funding was cut back, Mattle says, although the agency was able to shift expenses without having to cut staff.
 
Mattle says her financial background-she graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in business administration in 1980-has helped a bit, but the environment for child care agencies is increasingly difficult.
 
"Our challenge is to continue to improve child care at a time when state subsidies for this care are steadily going down," Mattle says. "We’ve been working as hard as we can with other groups to do better with that."
 
Rochester has an unusually high number of groups working in early childhood education and care, she notes. The groups came together in 2008 and 2009 to push for funds to be restored and to offer new aid for families in need of child care.
 
Mattle has led the Child Care Council on its own campaign of advocacy as well. She regularly meets with local and state lawmakers regarding what is needed to fully support child care.
 
As subsidies have shrunk, the Child Care Council has seen further financial pressures, Mattle says. The corporate partners that once contracted with the agency to provide referral services for their employees have peeled back these services.
 
"In this difficult economy, many of these businesses are cutting back on the benefits they provide to employees," Mattle says.
 
As she did with state lawmakers to fight funding cutbacks, Mattle and the Child Care Council have made the case to businesses for providing these services to employees.
 
"The young children in these child care programs are their next employees," Mattle says. "Kids get their best start with the proper care in their early years, and often that care is a strong early childhood care and education program."

Looking ahead
The rapidly changing environment, in which the needs and funding of today can look completely different tomorrow, has forced the Child Care Council into making strategy changes on the fly, Mattle says.
 
"Agencies used to have a five-year plan, but we found that by the time we finished it, it would change," she says. "We now find that we’re looking at our planning all the time because the industry is so flexible. Opportunities like the EPA grant come along, and we can’t afford to say, ‘No, that’s not in our plan.’"
 
The agency now works on a series of one-year plans, giving the board the ability to address the organization’s needs and make changes when necessary. Part of this means planning for the possible loss of revenue, Yuskiw says.
 
"One of the things we’ve done is look at other sources of revenue outside of grants," he says. "We’ve started to plan for the ‘what-ifs’ that might happen, like how we would operate if we lost a source of revenue. A big part of that now is looking for raising private funds and donations."
 
The Child Care Council has been able to stay ahead of the industry trends largely because of Mattle, he says.
 
"She really does a great job being an advocate for our organization and for child care agencies," Yuskiw says. "She’s just so well-versed on the environment that she can identify problems and keep us ahead of them. That is probably the main reason we’ve done so well compared to similar agencies across the state."
 
Her expertise extends beyond financial know-how. Mattle has a background in child care center design, which she applied at agencies such as the Wilson Commencement Park and Monroe Community College when they set up their child care centers. 
 
Though Yuskiw credits the success of the Child Care Council to its CEO, Mattle declines credit. The environment that was fostered since that surprise visit so many years ago has put the agency on a different path, she says.
 
"It’s the people in this organization that have made us what we are," Mattle says. "And we still approach everything we do with the idea that all customers are the same, whether it’s the grandmother with two kids or the large provider with hundreds. We’re always raising the bar and looking for new things we can do to better serve them."
 
Though Mattle enjoys other interests outside of her work-she loves to travel and read and is a past president of the American Wine Society’s Finger Lakes Chapter-it is the excitement of growing the organization that keeps her coming to work after 30 years.

"People have asked how I’ve been here so long, and I tell them when we’re not growing and I’m not having fun I wouldn’t do it anymore," she says. "And it’s still fun."

Barbara-Ann Mattle
Position: CEO, Child Care Council Inc.
Age: Declined to provide
Education: B.S. in business administration, Rochester Institute of Technology, 1980
Family: Husband, Edwin Maier; daughters Joye Hehn, Kimberly Langston
Residence: Webster
Activities: Travel, reading, wine tasting
Quote:  "It’s the people in this organization that have made us what we are. And we still approach everything we do with the idea that all customers are the same, whether it’s the grandmother with two kids or the large provider with hundreds. We’re always raising the bar and looking for new things we can do to better serve them."

2/15/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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