Maybe Stride Rite can't spell right, but it sure does set the pace for community responsibility. The Cambridge, Mass., shoe manufacturer pioneered on-site day-care centers for youngsters, 20 years ago. This year business's first employer-supported day-care center to serve oldsters celebrated its first anniversary.

At a cost of some $800,000, Stride Rite recently gutted 8,500 square feet of corporate-office space and converted it into classrooms and activity areas containing both elder-and child-size furniture.

Workers with family members in day care contribute to the center on a sliding scale, which is pegged to household income. To bridge the gap, the Stride Rite Charitable Foundation contributes capital to the operating budget, and the company itself supplies in-kind support such as bookkeeping and administrative and legal services. Liability insurance is tacked onto the corporation's own policy.

"Worker loyalty to the company is tremendous," asserts director of Stride Rite Work/Family Programs Karen Leibold, who sees ranks of siblings from the same families in attendance year after year, indicating that a large number of employees are staying on the job.

On-site day care is no longer the province of larger corporations, Leibold believes; even companies with few employees can establish a center, tapping intergenerational neighbors to fill it. Indeed, Stride Rite's own facility is only half filled by employee kin; the remainder -- young and old -- come from the community at large.

Stride Rite Work/Family Programs offers an informational packet on the subject. Call 617-491-8800, extension 7626.

-- Robert A. Mamis

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