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Surpassing her wildest dreams, CDC director retires after 17 years

Maxine Benson (right) enjoyed visiting with CDC parents Jane Martin (from left) and Barbara O’Connor at a party June 8 in her honor at the JCC outdoor pool.

It’s been a long, winding, but fulfilling road for Maxine Benson, who recently retired as the director of the Jewish Community Center’s Child Development Center. For 17 years, Benson’s days were filled with the children’s voices, tending to their every concern, showing compassion of their fears, and a passion for learning. She was always available to talk to parents about what their children experienced each day they were at the CDC.

Benson came to Kansas City with her husband Bob in June of 1997, coming to a city where the only person she knew was her husband. As Benson says, “little did I know that I was embarking on the most beautiful journey.” In these days of the Internet, it does seem rather quaint that Benson’s search for a job in Kansas City began with an ad in the newspaper for the CDC. By answering that ad, the CDC chapter in Benson’s life surpassed her wildest dreams.

During her 17 years at the CDC, Benson has seen numerous changes, including the number of families taking advantage of what the CDC has to offer. The number of children has increased from 160 to 230. Many children spend close to 55 hours a week, 52 weeks a year for up to four years there. Although the CDC has made many innovative changes to the curriculum over the years, it has also phased out programs that did not fit the CDC’s mission and philosophy.

For instance, gone are the days of chalkboards. Benson has seen the implementation of Smartboards, tablets and laptops that have become invaluable teachers’ aids. Also, during the past 17 years, the CDC has been able to successfully accommodate children with special needs. Yes, many changes have occurred over the past 17 years, and Benson has embraced them all.

While taking care of other families, Benson’s family also enjoyed the benefits of the JCC. “My mother and both of my daughters followed me to the JCC. My mother enjoyed time at the Heritage Center. My daughter Jenny was our Judaic specialist and taught Pre-K. Stefanie taught in the CDC for two years, and all three of my grandchildren spent their early years with me in the CDC.”

After all of these years under Benson’s leadership, the CDC will have a new leader at the helm. It’s Machaela Whelan, who comes to the CDC from a well-respected child development center in Lawrence, where she served in a key leadership role for the past six years. Whelan graduated from K.U. with a Bachelor of Arts degree in applied behavioral science with an emphasis in early childhood education. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree. She is a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC); the Douglas County KS Child Development Association and the Kansas Association for the Education of Young Children. Whelan is also CPR/First Aid certified.

While Whelan settles in, over the past several weeks Benson has remembered the good and challenging times. She has thanked everyone who helped her create one of the best early childhood centers in the Kansas City area, a center consistently recognized as a place where a child can learn, have fun and feel safe.

“My title and job responsibilities changed over the years, but the children have remained close to my heart and my number one priority.”