The history of the YWCA Family Cooperative Preschool dates back to the 1990s, when a group of like-minded parents began a collaboration with a local in-home daycare to provide a unique—at the time—child care program: healthy food and snacks for children in a daycare setting. As the children grew, so did the cooperative, and their knowledge as well. The teachers and families adopted a play-based, non-judgmental approach to caring for their children and soon formalized their approach, establishing the non-profit Venice Parents Daycare and Preschool. This school operated for many years as a home-based, licensed childcare in Venice and, later, Mar Vista. In addition to supporting children’s emotional and social growth and development, many parents discovered or re-discovered their love of teaching, and the co-op produced many talented teachers who now work throughout the community.
Eventually, the co-op struggled under the weight of hefty parent participation requirements at a time when more families had two salary earners, making it harder to manage the day-to-day of a strictly cooperative model. In order to still serve the community yet find a sustainable model for a cooperative preschool, a small group of families, with the guidance of Barbara Olinger, helped to negotiate a partnership to provide a new, licensed preschool at the YWCA, where the school was not completely dependent upon parent participation.
Today, the YWCA Family Cooperative Preschool has grown from that vision. With full- and part-time teachers receiving competitive benefits and salaries, and a cooperative model that reflects reasonable time commitments from families in various ways, the school will continue the cooperative spirit and provide caring, respectful, and enriching support to children and families.
Executive Director, YWCA Santa Monica/Westside
Julia is responsible for oversight of organizational operations, including five community service programs and numerous health and wellness programs. Julia joined the YWCA in December 2008, succeeding Sally Young, who retired after 23 years of dedicated service. Julia came to the YWCA from AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), where she served as Director of Fundraising supporting AHF’s worldwide HIV/AIDS treatment and care programs. Her experience prior to AHF includes work with the American Cancer Society in Los Angeles and Population Services International in India and Washington, DC. Julia lives in Santa Monica with her daughter, Isabella, and Isabella’s guinea pig, Princess Mabell.
Senior Director of A Place for Parents
Barbara Olinger has a Master’s degree in Social Work and has worked with children and families in educational and therapeutic settings for over 27 years. She began her relationship with the YWCA taking post-natal exercise classes (her son is now 21 years old!). Following this, she started volunteering (facilitating a New Mom’s Support Group), became an Independent Contractor teaching Toddler and Me classes, and then joined the YWCA team as a part-time employee supervising and writing grants for several programs. In 2004, she became a full-time staff. Currently, Barbara facilitates Infant/Toddler and Me classes, leads Parent Support Groups, and supervises Cottage Activity Time. Barbara is also the author/creator of Growing From the Roots: A Practical Guide to the Art of Parenting and Welcoming Your Second Child: A Workshop with Barbara Olinger. Learn more at ProgressiveParenting.org. Barbara has two sons and lives in Venice.
Director and Teacher
Nina Moench has been Director at the YWCA Family Cooperative Preschool since the school’s inception in 2011, and she has enjoyed the opportunity to help shape a new school from scratch. Nina combines her rich teaching experience with her design background to create an environment in which children can fully thrive.
Nina has a degree in interior design from Otis Art Institute and worked as a designer until her son was born in 2001. Seeking a career with hours that were more family-friendly, Nina made the switch to early childhood education and never looked back. She has taught at Kehillat Israel ECC and was Director at Hill ‘n’ Dale Preschool before coming over to the YFCP.
One of Nina’s best skills as a teacher is her ability to patiently observe a child. By taking Nina’s lead, “I’ve learned to read the situation and watch what’s going on,” says teacher Amanda Harris, “Sometimes if you just wait, you don’t end up needing to go into it after all.” Teacher Manny Montoya has tried to incorporate some of Nina’s teaching style as well. When kids are arguing, for example, “She pays attention to the children and assesses everything. It’s more in-depth with her.”
Outside of work, Nina and her family enjoy taking road trips around the Golden State, and they may have Huell Howser beat in their knowledge of California. She recently enjoyed a birthday that included whale-watching in Ventura and cooking oysters on the beach. Though she doesn’t design professionally anymore, you can still find her redecorating her home when the design itch strikes.
Teacher Henriette worked at an infant/toddler center, and preschools including Play Mountain Place, building on her years as an elementary school teacher in Denmark, before coming to the YFCP.
Henriette enjoys the sense of community at the school, and embraces the philosophy wholeheartedly. “The real difference is that big emotions are allowed to be expressed” at the YFCP, and that problems are learning opportunities. “Life is not about avoiding problems,” Henriette says, “but learning to deal with them.” Director Nina Moench notes that Henriette’s love of conflict-resolution and problem-solving is one of her greatest assets. “Henriette makes time for that no matter what she’s doing,” says Nina.
Aside from teaching, Henriette enjoys yoga, home decorating, and pursuing interests in psychology. She and her family love taking trips, enjoying nature, and catching family movies. They enjoy walking to the beach and are often found near those with the best monkey bars: Playa Del Rey and Venice.
Teacher Gina came to the YFCP after several years as a stay-at-home mom and children’s theater teacher. Her teaching experience began in high school, teaching sports to kids at her local YMCA in Laguna Beach. Gina’s interest in children continued in college, working as an assistant teacher in the faculty preschool while earning a BA in Psychology. As a UCLA graduate student, she taught theater to undergrads while studying for her MFA in Theater Arts. Looking back, Gina says, “From a very early age I remember wanting to be a teacher, and now I realize I have been a teacher in some capacity most of my adult life.”
As her children began preschool, her interest in early childhood development blossomed. She attended classes in the Reggio-Emilia approach and became involved as a parent-teacher at their preschools, Play Mountain Place and Evergreen Community School. Gina was thrust into teaching theater at the DC Dance Center in Santa Monica when her daughter’s teacher suddenly moved to Oregon, and Gina agreed to step in temporarily. Five years later she is still there and loving it. She feels so fortunate to have found YFCP. “I am so incredibly proud of this school,” Gina says. “The children here know that this is THEIR school. They are seen and they are heard.” Director Nina Moench says, “She’s incredibly patient. Gina’s willing to slow down, listen to the kids’ words, and get down on their level.”
Gina spends most of her free time taking her kids to their extracurricular activities. Her family loves going to the beach, hiking, seeing movies, and cooking together while listening to music — some bands you’d currently hear in their kitchen are The Lumineers, Imagine Dragons, Elvis Costello, and Paper Kites.
Teacher Gordon’s career began in high school, working at the Glendale Teen Youth Pregnancy Center as a caregiver for the children of teens who were studying to finish their education. He also volunteered at the Heart of Los Angeles Youth Organization. Gordon spent his summers during college coaching at Santa Clara University’s basketball camps. After college, Gordon joined his sister in Boulder, CO. Not knowing what he would be doing for employment, Gordon ended up working at a local preschool by the end of his first week. The rest is history. Gordon now coaches basketball classes at the YWCA, has implemented the Kids Nite Out program, and is developing a beach sports camp.
Gordon brings his interest in sports and current events into the classroom. “He’ll talk with the kids about what’s happening this week and how local sports teams are doing,” says Director Nina Moench. “If your kid comes home talking about the Lakers, it’s probably because of Gordon!” Gordon disagrees. “If they’re really listening, they’ll be talking about the Clippers,” he says.
Gordon has been active in running after experiencing a health scare in late 2011. He has participated in several races and raised over $4000 in 2012. The majority of the money was donated to improve the physical environment at the YWCA’s Cottage Activity Time, where he is a Lead Teacher. Gordon brought home the bronze from the Golden Gate Trail Run in San Francisco, and he won the silver at the Malibu Canyon Trail Run. His times continue to improve. “One day maybe I’ll get a gold,” he says with a smile.
Teacher Jaklin brings 6 years of teaching experience to the YFCP. Jaklin worked in accounting and was taking classes in early child development when she was invited to work in the nursery of the school her kids attended at the time. Jaklin loved the work, and she was able to stay on top of what her own children were up to as well.
Jaklin excels at allowing the YFCP kids take the lead, and aims to facilitate the “child-directed” aspect of the program. “She has a real ability to see a child’s interest,” says Director Nina Moench, and Jaklin’s enthusiasm is boundless. “Jaklin’s like an octopus, pulling things off the shelves,” all in an effort to support the interest she observes in the child. Of all the places she’s worked, “The YFCP is my favorite,” Jaklin says. “I love the children, the families, the environment, everything about it. I never want to leave!” After school, Jaklin can be found reading, gardening, and spending time with her family.
Teacher Amanda has 10 years teaching experience and a career certificate in ECE from SMC. Amanda worked in customer service for several years before making the switch to early childhood education. She began volunteering as a teacher to the 2.5-3.5 year olds at First Years and at her daughter’s elementary school. Amanda followed that experience with classes at SMC, and later worked at The Venice Garden preschool. She feels her role at the YFCP is a perfect fit. “I love to assist children in their learning, but be more of an observer, offering things when needed.” Director Nina Moench is grateful for Amanda’s positive attitude, “Nothing gets her down,” she says. No matter what direction the kids want to take, Nina observes, “Amanda says, ‘Sure, we can do that!’”
Amanda and her family like to be outdoors, ride bikes, go to museums, and take road trips to visit family in Colorado and Northern California. Amanda loves to read — on paper, not e-reader! — and she’s been part of a book club started through Mom’s Club for the past 3 years. Up for discussion next is the book The Kitchen House.
Teacher Maria remembers wanting to be a teacher from a young age, but first pursued other career paths. In her home country of El Salvador, Maria was a secretary at a law firm and in a car dealership. She became a health promoter at California Hospital after moving to the States.
When she arrived in Los Angeles, Maria rediscovered her love for children. She spent several years working in early childhood education, including The Growing Place most recently. “After so much time in heels and being around adults I forgot how lovely it was to work with children and laugh every day.” The children soak up Maria’s use of Spanish to describe their activities. “She incorporates Spanish into morning meetings,” says Director Nina Moench, “and she brings so much laughter and playfulness to the school.”
“I love my job, and have fun every day,” says Maria. The effect of being around children, she muses, “Is that you never forget how to enjoy life.” Maria has more activities than time. She takes Zumba at the Y, attends LAPD cadet workshops with one of her sons, and loves to read – she’s a regular at the library twice a week.
Teacher Paula’s favorite aspect of the YFCP is also what sets it apart from other preschools she has worked at since beginning her teaching career in 1988. “The kids here get to choose what they’ll be doing each day,” Paula notes, “Our limits are really safety limits.” Another asset Paula observes about the school is the sprawling space. “The kids are free to move around. They can play indoors, then meet in the auditorium, and later play in the big yard.”
Paula started at the YFCP as a sub in 2012 after teaching at Roosevelt Elementary’s after-school program and Palisades Preschool. Paula’s ECE degree from Santa Monica College, along with her years of practical teaching experience, have made her a terrific addition as a permanent staff member – she is now the Lead Teacher of the afternoon program. “The teachers and I call Paula our spiritual advisor,” says Director Nina Moench, “because she has such a positive attitude about life.”
Paula has plenty of interests to keep her busy as a new empty-nester: she rides her bike, walks, and plays basketball. Paula particularly enjoys yoga with Bhavani at the YWCA, where she gets some time to herself. “I love the meditation at the beginning and the end,” says Paula, “when everything is quiet and you feel at peace.”