Noe Valley Voice October 2005

Preschool Parties for a Grown-up Cause

By Laura McHale Holland

By Laura McHale Holland

This month the Noe Valley Cooperative Nursery School is celebrating two things: its longevity as a community resource for parents and children, and the 70th birthday of its director, Nina Youkelson, who has been at the school's helm since it opened in 1969.

A year and a half of planning has gone into creating two complementary events. The first, an evening fundraiser, will be held Saturday, Oct. 8, from 6 to 10 p.m., at the Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez Street, where the preschool is located. All are invited, and all proceeds from the evening, including the $75 admission charge, will benefit the fund for Youkelson's eventual retirement.

"The need for funds is simple: In the 36 years of Nina's work at the school and life in the community, insufficient attention was paid to the fact that she will someday retire. The alumni committee is trying to ensure that when she does decide to hang up her sequined sneakers she can retire comfortably," says parent-alumna Elizabeth Crane (see essay at right).

The second gathering will be a family festival and potluck picnic for the school's current membership, alumni, neighbors, and wider community, on Sunday, Oct. 9, at Douglass Park at Douglass and 26th streets, from 1 to 5 p.m. This event is free. Entertainment is planned, and people are asked to bring a dish to share. For more information about the festivities or to lend a hand, please call event organizer Sharon Lepper at 415-826-7647.

Where Would We Be Without Nina?

By Elizabeth Crane

I was working part-time and staying home with my sons when they were little. My neighbor, Ed Shuck, would see me out pushing a stroller and chasing a toddler and say, "Hey, you should check out the Noe Valley Nursery School. Your kids would love it."

But no, I was broke and stubborn, trying to do everything myself without family or a village, or even a large cohort of friends with babies. While my husband was at work all day, I was flying solo.

I had to practically stub my toe on the school before I admitted what Ed had known all along: the Noe Valley Nursery School was my place. In 1997 I wandered in and I never left. I felt instantly adopted.

The co-op was inexpensive compared to any other school I'd seen because it required "sweat equity": the parents worked at the school. Everything I believed about how kids learned--at their own pace, in their own way--was reinforced here. Everything I needed to learn (and there was plenty) was taught here--by the parents, by the kids, and of course by the director, Nina Youkelson.

Nina made nursery school a welcoming place. Her habit of saying good morning by name to everyone who walked in--parent and child--was one that never failed to cheer me. Each day, I looked forward to hearing "Good morning, Michael! Good morning, Elizabeth!"

If a child was upset about being left at the school, Nina offered her lap--and consolation. She'd say, "Your mommy will be back after lunch. It's OK to be sad, but there are a lot of things to do here. What would you like to do?" Within minutes, the tears would be dry and there would be one more kid at the dress-up boxes or racing around on a trike.

In a situation that to some looked like anarchy--lots of kids jumping and screaming, others painting with wide splashes of color at the easels, still more marching through wearing fancy costumes--Nina was the quiet eye of the storm, participating in every piece of the big picture, but letting it all happen and swirl around her, too.

Everyone who passes through the school has at least one favorite Nina story. I use mine as a reminder to be generous with my kids, especially with my time:

One day in school, a child came up to Nina and said, "They won't let me play with them." (It doesn't matter now which child or which year this happened; it happened over and over, and Nina knew what to do.)

"Come with me," she said, taking the child by the hand and walking outside to where a group of kids were digging in the sand. "Nicholas wants to play with you," she told the children. "He's at your door and he's knocking and saying, 'Can I come in?' What are you going to do?" The kids in the sand were momentarily silent. Then Nina continued with a smile, "You let him in! He's at your door, so you say, 'Come in! Come in and play!' When a friend knocks at the door, you say, 'Come in!'"

Nina is modest. She would say that the commemoration of her 70th birthday (Oct. 16) is merely a coincidence and that the October 8­9 gala and potluck (see story at left) are really about community and the school. But we parents know better: Nina has been the heart and soul of the school for 36 years, and we honor her for every minute she has put into making our children's lives and our lives richer. Happy Birthday, Nina. We love you.

Elizabeth Crane lives on Eureka Street with her husband Richard and sons Philip, 12, and Michael, 9. She is the co-author, with Sharon Chandler, of Say Yes to College, published by Penguin Perigee in August.


The Noe Valley Nursery School Alumni Committee gratefully acknowledges the following businesses, organizations, and individuals for their generous donations to the Nina Youkelson Fundraiser and Birthday Celebration October 8. If you would like to join them in contributing to the retirement fund for our beloved school director, please contact Sharon Lepper at 415-826-7647.

Accent on Flowers

Acme Bread

Belgano Chocolateria and Gelateria

Bell Market

Bliss Bar

Café Ponte

Charlie's Café

Chocolate Covered

Church Street Produce

Cover to Cover Booksellers

The Dubliner

Destination Baking Company

Flower Mart

The French Tulip


Hamano Sushi

Incanto Italian Restaurant

Isabella's Ice Cream

Jennifer Kauffman, Zephyr Real Estate

Jill Pierce and Orange Sherbet

Jim and Son's Produce

Kendall Jackson

Lakeshore Elementary

Le Zinc

Matsuya Restaurant

Mi Lindo Yucatan II

Noe Valley Bakery

Noe Valley Deli

Noe Valley Farmers' Market

Noe Valley Ministry

Owen Baker-Flynn

Pasta Pomodoro

Peasant Pies


Small Frys

Trader Joe's


Urban Cellars

Valley Tavern

Come help us celebrate
Nina Youkelson's birthday on Saturday, Oct. 8, 6 to 10 p.m.
at the Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez Street.
Suggested donation $75