In Honorable Menschen, Shalom New Haven recognizes individuals in our Greater New Haven Jewish community who make a difference in the lives of other human beings. We hope their actions will serve as an inspiration for others. Please email Honorable Menschen suggestions to ShalomNH@jewishnewhaven.org
By Jennifer Gelband
Contributor to Shalom New Haven
Lynn Bullard is the Director of Yeladim Early Learning Center at the JCC. This year marks her 30th anniversary at the JCC, but her ties to the JCC and the local Jewish community began much earlier. Bullard grew up in the area, as a teen regularly taking the bus downtown to the JCC on Chapel Street. This lifelong engagement is the root of her devotion and commitment to the organization and the community that it supports.
Her career at Yeladim dates back to 1987, when the school operated out of two Hamden locations. There was only one telephone, on a pole in between the classrooms. Hired as a teacher by Gwenn Cohen (the beloved longtime Yeladim director for whom Gwenn’s Garden at 360 Amity Road is named), Bullard has taught infants, toddlers, twos, and threes, acting as a mentor for new teachers. She eventually became Gwenn Cohen’s assistant director. When Cohen passed away, Bullard became co-director, then director. Over the years, she helped move Yeladim from the Hamden locations, to Sherman Avenue in New Haven, then to Amity Road in 1993.
“Gwenn and I were so close,” said Bullard. “In her eulogy, I promised to maintain the quality of the education at Yeladim and to remain as committed as she was to honor her”—which Bullard has done. Under her tenure, Yeladim has added music, a library and an extended day program. After the fire at Amity Road in December 2016 shuttered the school, the JCC and Yeladim staffs, under Bullard’s guidance, reopened a complete, comprehensive and fully-licensed substitute location at Congregation B’nai Jacob in just three days. She made this incredible feat happen without much acknowledgement or credit, because her responsibility to the families is what drives her.
Yeladim’s philosophy is a play-based vision that encourages experimentation, problem solving, logical thinking and cooperative learning, values, development of social skills, and positive self-concept. “Staff and teachers set the environment, provide the materials and the children are able to create” she said. “No pressure, no expectations, open-ended, free creativity. Even though it is play-based, every learning center is set up with specifically planned activities to enhance the learning in the classrooms. Every child is special and is given individual opportunities to help them do their best.”
Bullard demonstrates her dedication and drive to offer the best childcare and early learning program in the area by working closely with the staff, helping to plan curriculum and visits to all the classrooms every day. While the play-based learning is the basis of Yeladim’s philosophy and vision, the program was also founded on Jewish values. Bullard keenly balances this core commitment while being inclusive and welcoming to everyone in the community.
“The underlying base is Judaic,” she said. “That is represented through culture, traditions, values, morals; it is not religious in nature. We teach that through celebrating the Jewish holidays. We have a diverse staff and a diverse group of children, and we acknowledge all of them.”