The Rose Garden becomes a worker-owned cooperative! by Meredith Unger

The Rose Garden Early Childhood Center is a LifeWays Representative Program and a home-away-from-home for children 18 months to 5 years in Buffalo, NY. After founding The Rose Garden in 2009, Judy Frizlen oversaw many successful years as owner and director. Then, when planning for retirement and facing the notion of handing over her dear school, Judy did research, engaged with her community, and soon realized the business model that would truly best suit the unique entity that is The Rose Garden: a worker-owned cooperative model. So, after careful planning, this transition was undertaken. The school kept the position of director, now held by Stephanie Neikirk-Epes, and embraced five teachers as worker-owners. Over the past winter the worker-owners, Theresa DiMuro Wilber, Josh Boyle, Dasha Nadolinski, Laura Grande and Meredith Unger, attended a twelve-week training course on worker cooperatives led by Andrew Delmonte and Tori Kuper of Cooperation Buffalo.

The team learned that worker cooperatives are principled organizations where each worker gets one vote and profits are shared equitably. This means that worker owners share both risk and reward. A cooperative model allows the business to support the values, health, and vitality of the community in which it is nestled. Turning to this model is an investment in the community and allows cash flow to circulate locally. When cities are growing, as Buffalo is, quality childcare is a necessary component to allow one or both parents to work. Additionally, childcare is based on trust, and when parents know that their child’s teachers are also owners of the Center, they see the deep roots of investment the caregivers have in the Center and their children. Finally, the childcare industry is an historically undervalued and under-compensated form of feminized labor, and co-ops bring about opportunities for ownership, leadership and wealth creation in a critical and often marginalized sector of the economy.

As a worker-owner, I get to walk into the Center every day and practice democracy simply by operating within our business model. When we practice democracy locally, we are better prepared to practice it globally.

Congratulations, everyone at The Rose Garden, and best wishes in this new phase, from all of us at LifeWays!