Sandra Skolnik makes the workplace a friendlier environment for families


December 06, 1990|By Randi Henderson

Despite the big dollhouse in the lobby and antique toys in a showcase, you are not likely to find children in Sandra Skolnik's office.

You'll find computer printouts by the dozens, stacks of telephone messages from powerful people, brochures and proposals and loose-leaf binders full of data -- all of it pertaining to children. The little ones themselves, however, are hardly ever around.

"But I grab them whenever they walk by," laughs Mrs. Skolnik, who for 16 years has been executive director of the Maryland Committee for Children. "I snuggle into some baby's neck whenever I can."

From her fourth floor office at 608 Water St., in a building that was once -- appropriately enough -- a chocolate factory, Mrs. Skolnik describes the committee's mission as nothing less than "to change how people think about young children and families, to be involved in changing the American workplace, to make that workplace a friendlier environment for children and for families."

This effort -- which has focused on providing care for the children of working mothers -- has earned growing recognition for Sandy Skolnik. This summer, the United Way of Central Maryland presented her with one of its five management distinction awards. And on Sunday, the Baltimore Council of the Na'Amat USA, a Zionist women's group, will honor Mrs. Skolnik and Theresa Lansburgh, the chairwoman of the Maryland Committee for Children, at the group's annual luncheon.

"We felt that the work that Sandy Skolnik is doing here is pioneering work in the child-care movement," said Dorothy Margolis, local past president and national board member of Na'Amat. Originally known in the U.S. as Pioneer Women, Na'Amat began the first day care center in Israel 42 years ago and now oversees the care of more than 25,000 Israeli children.

The honor is "nice for me and my family," says Mrs. Skolnik, who is a member of the organization and characterizes her family as "old-time labor Zionists." But it represents only a ripple in the momentum being gained by the child-care movement.

She is particularly excited about two recent developments. The federal budget that passed in October included a largely overlooked provision: the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which will provide the states with almost $2.5 billion over the next three years to increase the availability, affordability and quality of child care. (Maryland will receive $8.8 million next September, $9.9 million in 1992 and $11.1 million in 1993.)

Mrs. Skolnik praises the leadership role played by Gov. William Donald Schaefer in getting the legislation passed.

"Let me tell you, the governor has been spectacular," she says. "He testified in front of Congress. He got 14 other governors to sign a letter in opposition to the National Governors' Association [which came out against the legislation]. He and his aides worked their tails off."

For his part, Governor Schaefer returns the compliment with praise about Mrs. Skolnik's work, which he's been involved with since he was mayor of Baltimore. "Her determination has made a difference in the lives of so many children," he said. "When I think of children's welfare, I think of Sandy Skolnik."

The other program that Mrs. Skolnik anticipates eagerly is a statewide comprehensive child-care resource and referral agency, which soon will begin preliminary operations. The Maryland Committee is involved with an advisory council made up of local business leaders to set up and oversee this agency, which would help parents find child care, assist businesses in taking care of their employees' day-care needs and train child-care workers.

One of the committee's biggest projects is LOCATE, a computerized statewide resource and referral system, but Mrs. Skolnik describes this program as "superficial" compared to the comprehensive network of locally based resource agencies that is envisioned for the future.

These programs mark a sort of turning point for an organization that began in 1945. "We used to be called the Maryland Committee for Group Day Care of Children," Mrs. Skolnik says, "and [we] ran the day-care centers for Rosie the Riveter's kids during the Second World War."

After the war, she says, these founding mothers saw that American family life would never be the same. "They knew this piece that all the decision-makers chose to ignore, and that was that Rosie wasn't going to go home again, that there was a desperate need for child care."

Mrs. Skolnik, who has a 25-year-old son and a 21-year-old daughter, became involved with children's issues when her own children were in school. Trained as a laboratory technician, she worked for a time in the antiques business, then was one of the parents instrumental in setting up the Fallstaff Middle School, the first middle school in the Baltimore area.

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