For more than 30 years Lorene Griffin has been the center director at the KinderCare Learning Center in Billerica, Mass., hiring many aspiring teachers to work in her classrooms. Griffin does more than just hire new teachers though – she sets those educators on a career path with KinderCare. In fact, several of her former teachers went on to become center directors and district managers themselves, each keeping Billerica and the lessons they learned from Griffin in mind.
Anne O’Brien, Center Director in Nashua, N.H.
I met Lorene in 1990 when the center I worked for after school (as a high school student) shut down unexpectedly. My former coworker Carrie got a job at the center down the street (Billerica) and I followed her, becoming an assistant teacher. Lorene encouraged me to go to community college to earn my teacher certification. She taught me respect, staff relations, and financial training. I have a greater respect for teachers because I started at the bottom. I encourage professional development. I love to grow them to who they need to be.
I spent 10 years teaching in her center – from infants, to toddlers, to pre-k. I tried public school teaching for a while but I couldn’t leave KinderCare. I worked at the center mornings and nights and full time on my days off. Lorene said, “Come back to KinderCare. This is your family, your home.”
I am who I am today because of her molding. I still reach out to her for guidance and encouragement.
Courtney Gray, Assistant Director in Peabody, Mass.
I started working for Lorene in high school. My friend recommended KinderCare. It was like joining a family. Lorene would bend over backwards for you and you’d want to do the same for her. I was inspired to stay in early childhood education. I had my low points. I struggled with the new curriculum but Lorene encouraged me to be creative. She said “This is the meat and potatoes. You add the rest.”
I was super passionate about teaching. I wanted to stay with Lorene (and did for 17 years), but because of her I felt properly trained to become an assistant director. She molded me as an adult. I don’t think she understands the impact she made.
Janel DeBenedetto, Center Director in Peabody, Mass.
I started working for Lorene as an assistant teacher while I was in high school. In 1997 you either worked at Friendly’s or KinderCare, and at Friendly’s you had to work nights and weekends so KinderCare was a no brainer! Lorene made you feel comfortable immediately. Her center is a very friendly environment, not at all stressful. Walking into her center is like walking into her house. I went away for college (business management) but came home early on weekends to work at the center. You could say I fell into this career. It’s where I needed to be.
I learned everything from Lorene. Engagement? Lorene had this nailed down before anyone cared about it. It was inadvertent but it was there. She modeled great interactions with teachers, parents, and children. When things come up I pick up the phone and call her. She’s that voice of reason and support. She always makes time for you.
When Courtney [Gray] came to this center we said, “This has to be our Billerica.”
Janice Handrahan, District Manager in Woonsocket, RI
I met Lorene in my first few years at KinderCare back in 1994. I was working at the Franklin, Mass. center and the director at the time (Monica Curran, nee Erickson) was best buddies with Lorene. Lorene and Monica were two of the first centers in the company to go through NAEYC accreditation. We visited each other’s centers and trained on the materials together. They did it because they believed in the mission. All of us that were a part of that time walked away feeling like pioneers, walking on the moon. It was powerful.
There are some people that you meet and like instantly. Lorene is someone you can’t help but like. More important is her unbelievable selflessness. She is more like a mother than like a director. She wants everyone on her team to be even more successful than she’s been. She shares her mistakes and her successes, and makes sure that she builds a legacy. She has sent so many people into the world of KinderCare that it is hard to measure her impact.
This past September Lorene and I lost our best friend at work, Monica Curran. She lost her battle with cancer. She was Lorene’s best friend and my mentor for 20 years. Lorene and Monica were so similar, so influential, and so real about what is important. We mourned her death together. Lorene was heartbroken but she focused on making sure that Monica’s center was perfect. She travelled over an hour each week to visit with the staff, make sure that they were taken care of, and kept the center just the way Monica would expect it. She immediately adopted Monica’s staff, especially her Assistant Director Molly. Not because they needed it: That is just what she does.
Her influence moves me to want people to think of me as I do her, like family.
Linda Brobst, Center Director in Londonderry, N.H.
I enrolled my two children at the Billerica center. While my children were there I went through a divorce and my job at the time was not working out. Lorene hired me as a cook in her center and I filled in classrooms when needed. Lorene and I both knew my heart was with the children, so I became a toddler teacher. Lorene mentored me [and encouraged me to] take classes and I continued [at KinderCare] for two years. I am currently going on my 19th year with KinderCare.
Lorene inspires me every day with the devotion that she gives to her families and teachers. She is a great mom and a second mom to so many of [her] teachers’ children.
[Lorene taught me] that children are the most important part of your job. I learned about relationships, and most of all, being true to yourself.