For more than a century, through two pandemics, this nonprofit has helped families in need

By Sriya Reddy

DALLAS — ChildCareGroup, a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide early education and childcare support to underserved communities, has worked in Dallas since 1901.

Now in its 120th anniversary year, the organization is digging into its history to see what has changed over time.

When Tori Mannes, the CEO of ChildCareGroup, first brought a copy of the original charter from 1901 to a board meeting, board member Betsy Cullum was stunned. The signature of her great-great grandfather caught her eye.

“She just got the paperwork and she put it on the screen. And I went, ‘Oh my goodness. That’s my great-great grandfather.’” Cullum said. “My great great grandfather was one of the signers of the 1901 document that legally created the first iteration of the ChildCareGroup. Learning that really brought it home to me.”

The organization has been working with an archivist for about a year and has been able to learn from the past that it worked to uncover. It will have a virtual celebration on Tuesday to mark its anniversary

As a former educator herself, Cullum has been passionate for the work ChildCareGroup has done and served two separate terms on the ChildCareGroup board, one in the late ‘80s, and one now. She did this all while having no idea that she already had a familial connection to the organization.

ChildCareGroup has served hundreds of thousands of families throughout its history and has eight early education centers. But it was originally a settlement house, an institution that provided resources and education to the community. The settlement house, called Neighborhood House, was located on the corner of Cedar Springs and McKinney Avenue. It was the first settlement house in Texas. The eight centers now include five in Dallas, and three others — in Garland, Mesquite and Corsicana.

Settlement houses were a part of the social services movement in the early 20th century and provided families, usually in low-income areas, with educational opportunities and material resources. They were typically run by white middle- or upper-class women.

The Neighborhood House primarily provided childcare and free kindergarten for women who worked in the cotton mills, while also training teachers that lived on the second floor.

“Primarily, the children that we served were immigrant children from all sorts of different backgrounds, and their mothers.” Mannes said. “They were all vulnerable and needed to make money for their families, so many worked at the cotton mills.”

Mannes said that history is important to understand because they use it to inform their present and to make plans.

“There’s a tremendous throughline in ChildCareGroup’s story because what we knew then, we still know to be true today,” Mannes said. “And, even more important, we’ve got all of these decades and decades of research and experience behind us to underscore why it works, and that it does work.”

A lot has changed over 120 years, but many things also have not. To Mannes, one of the most interesting things that she saw while examining the history is that the coronavirus is ChildCareGroup’s second pandemic. During the influenza pandemic of 1918, ChildCareGroup took care of infants whose parents had the Spanish flu.

“We were there then serving on the front lines, caring for the children and the families that need us the most, and we’ve been staying on the front lines throughout the COVID pandemic, doing the very same thing,” Mannes said. “So I can’t say it’s been easy, but we’ve kept on going.”

Former CEO Madeline Mandell said that she was impressed with the consistency of ChildCareGroup’s mission over the last 120 years. She said that since the beginning, the mission of supporting mothers in the workplace and giving children somewhere to be safe, nurtured and educated, has stayed the same.

ChildCareGroup’s emphasis on early childhood education and a two-generational approach, which supports both parents and their children, are values that have stayed throughout the 120 years of its existence.

“That has been just constant throughout and has never changed,” Mandell said “That this was seen by visionary people 120 years ago, and then still now, I think that speaks a lot for the quality and the need of the organization,”

Mandell, CEO from 1971 to 2000, also said that she remembers feeling a sense of accomplishment when she learned that children that went through education at ChildCareGroup performed significantly better than the average.

“I remember when I got those statistics, I just sat at my desk and I cried, because that was it, you know,” Mandell said. “That’s what I wanted to do, something that really made a difference in children’s lives.”

As she looks at the organization today, she said that she is proud of what it has been able to accomplish.

Cullum shares this sentiment and said that from her first term on the board under Mandell’s leadership to now, she’s seen how people’s reaction toward early education and childcare has changed.

“Back then, the majority of people really didn’t get it,” Cullum said. “When I explained to my friends what I was doing, sometimes I got a glazed-over look, or they’d say ‘No no, high school, that’s where it’s at.’ "

Today, there is more appreciation for early education.

“I really feel that the public has been educated in many ways, about the importance of early childhood education,” Cullum said “And I really think that particularly in the Dallas area, ChildCareGroup is partially responsible for that, because they kept plugging away.”


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