It is 1970. It’s Pam Feinberg’s senior year at Nicolet High School, not far from Milwaukee. Audition details for the school musical “Bells Are Ringing” had been posted.
Feinberg vies to receive the nod for the lead role of Ella Peterson, who works for Susananswerphone, a telephone answering service, and gets involved in the lives of the service’s clients to enliven her personal life.
Actress Judy Holliday had reprised her Broadway starring role in the 1960 movie of the same name. Dean Martin, as Jeffrey, portrayed Ella’s love interest in the film.
But a lingering illness thwarts Feinberg’s bid to snare top billing in the school production in Glendale, Wisconsin.
“I missed three weeks of school,” Feinberg, her voice and face betraying tinges of lament, recalls. “But I still was able to perform in the musical.
“I sang in the chorus.”
Feinberg sings the praises of Tri-Con Child Care Center in Highland Park these days. The Buffalo Grove resident and former Jewish Community Center teacher/administrator has been executive director of the nonprofit agency—established in 1971, when United Way assessed the need for additional subsidized early care and education programs in Highland Park and Highwood—for 17 years. Trinity Episcopal Church in Highland Park, the National Council of Jewish Women, and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Highland Park collaborated to create Tri-Con, which serves 45-50 children (ages 3-7) of working parents year-round and offers Preschool, After Kindergarten, and Summer Camp programs.
Many of the enrolled students are English-language learners who live in homes where only Spanish is spoken. The center is licensed by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Lake County Health Department. Tuition is based on a sliding-fee scale, determined by family income and size.
Tri-Con’s steadfast mission, via its dedicated staff and nurturing environment in Trinity Episcopal Church’s lower level: Prepare children to succeed in public schools and thrive as lifelong learners.
“We are not babysitters, and we do more, much more, than teach the ABCs,” insists Feinberg, whose “fantastic team” includes assistant director Denise Varner, administrative assistant Sue Santello, teacher Karen Kushner, and bilingual teachers Cristina Reyes and Liz Taboada. “We introduce the children to skills needed for learning, and our literacy program— supported by a public library—is a strong one. We don’t do this alone; we get tremendous support from local organizations, businesses, and individuals. A marionette maker recently made a presentation at Tri-Con, enthralling our children. I wish you could have seen their faces. The arts help build vocabularies. Our children also develop self-confidence, empathy, and problem-solving.”
It’s nearly 8 a.m., the start of a day at Tri-Con. Feinberg, sitting in her office, hears children’s voices and laughter and the pitter-patter of the youngsters’ running feet. The executive director smiles. It thrills her, once again, knowing she’ll be surrounded by eager Tri-Con learners for most of her day.
They might read something riveting or participate in an activity that stimulates creativity today. They might hear music and fail to suppress the urge to dance to the music today. They might realize listening is an invaluable skill today. They might explore and experiment through play today.
They might make more friends today. Friends for life.
“One of my favorite sights in the morning during my workday is that of a smiling parent hugging an excited child goodbye before heading to work, says Feinberg, who changed her major from nursing to education while attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “That parent looks comfortable to me. Looks grateful, too. Our children’s parents know their children are in good hands with us, as well as in a safe environment. They know we’re committed to teaching to promoting kindness toward others, to stressing the importance of having respect for others, and to preparing them for their grade-school years and beyond.”
Pam and Steve Feinberg are the parents of Stevenson High School graduate Jessica, a 37-year-old attorney, and the grandparents of Jessica’s 3- and a 5-year-olds. They live in Washington, D.C.
Decades earlier, Jessica served as a volunteer at … Tri-Con Child Care Center. “Jessica,” Pam Feinberg says, “reminded me of the time she had spent at Tri-Con after Tri-Con hired me.”
Pam’s father, Jerry, died at the way-too-young age of 44 when Pam was 19. Years later her stepfather set her up on a blind date with Steve. The pair ate Haagen-Dazs ice cream at a shop in Chicago.
“I ordered a scoop of vanilla chocolate almond,” says Pam, who typically orders an omelet when she’s at either her No. 1 or No. 2 breakfast spot— Walker Bros. Original Pancake House or Egg Harbor Café. “I didn’t get an ice cream cone that night because eating that could have been too sloppy on a first date. We sat and talked for hours. We closed the place. Our second date was at a fundraiser, held at Drury Lane Water Tower Place. I met his whole family there.”
The courtship lasted six months. Pam and Steve got married in 1977.
“We love to travel. We love to visit our grandchildren,” says Feinberg, a regular Ravinia Festival concertgoer, a fan of plays and musicals, and an avid reader of novels and mysteries. “We see them every eight weeks or so.
“I always make sure I pack plenty of books and toys for our grandchildren.”
Tri-Con Child Care Center is located at 425 Laurel Avenue in Highland Park. For more information, call 847-433-1450 or visit triconchildcare.com. Tri-Con welcomes and encourages visits to its center to see the programs in operation and invites all community involvement