My Friends’ House: Karen Bayne’s story

Listen to the 2008 StoryCorps chat

For the past 27 years, children staying at the YWCA residence, children from the family shelter, and children from our extended community have awakened to say, “I’m going to My Friends’ House today.” And thanks to the efforts of longtime educator Karen Bayne, care at the YWCA childcare center, My Friends’ House, is very much like visiting a real family—the home of a friend.

In 1987 Karen brought her unique idea of childcare to life when the YWCA opened My Friends’ House. Her vision was of a family-like environment where parents and teachers would work together for the good of each child and where babies, toddlers and preschoolers could play and learn together.

What might seem obvious today was at the time fairly radical. State licensing for childcare dictated that each age group be cared for in a separate room with separate adults, a situation that Karen saw as unnatural. Separating siblings is particularly difficult for children who may already be separated from one or both parents because of conflict, substance abuse or financial troubles.

Fortunately, Karen said, “I didn’t have to fight anybody here. I was totally supported by the YWCA and the Board.” So the YWCA and Karen petitioned the state for an exception. Not only was the request granted, their determination resulted in changing the childcare licensing regulations in Washington.

The program began in a home that was renovated with help from a generous community. In fact, donations fell into place so easily that her colleagues began to suspect Karen had supernatural powers. If she talked about needing a refrigerator, the phone would ring with a refrigerator donation. When they needed new phones, a local business would offer a multiline phone system.

The house was rebuilt in 2001 thanks to the generosity of the Mussman family, and it continues to feel like a second home to many children—a safe, inclusive place with support not just for children, but for families.

In a 2008 StoryCorps interview, one of thousands of recordings archived at the Library of Congress, Karen reminisced with another past Director, Nancy Butler, about one of the many children in their care who especially needed stability. The child’s mother struggled with substance abuse, and through years of alternating between foster care and her mother, My Friends’ House remained a constant in the little girl’s life while her mother worked toward a successful recovery.

Karen continues to enjoy working with children as a private tutor and a proud grandmother. When Karen visits My Friends’ House today to provide staff training or say hello, she is delighted to see that the family model is still in place and that the teachers continue to focus on the needs of the children. It isn’t just daycare, she said: It’s childcare. “Every decision is made for the good of the child.”