Tina Bender, Coordinator of Staff Care and Culture
Creating a work-life balance can be a challenge – especially when the two are intricately woven. Tina Bender has been part of CityKidz from the beginning. For Tina, it’s sometimes impossible to know where work ends and home begins. Her husband, Todd, is CityKidz’ founder and executive director, and the two even share an anniversary with the organization. So for Tina, CityKidz is also family and one to which she has generously and humbly given her love, gifts, grace and wisdom.
I recently had a chance to sit down with Tina and talk to her about her role at CityKidz, balancing work and family, and what 25 years means to her. This is our conversation.
CityKidz: You’ve been with CityKidz from the very beginning and have inhabited many roles with the organization over the last 25 years. Your current role has the unique title of Coordinator of Staff Care and Culture. What does this job look like?
Tina Bender: I often say that I have the best job here at CityKidz. My current role at CityKidz is great. I get to support teams and people. I get to help them have a good start here, a good stay and then, when it’s their time, a good exit. It’s my hope people can be celebrated along the way, cared for, acknowledged and help create some team camaraderie.
That looks like practical things in on-boarding and off-boarding but also some fun things like events and celebrations. There’s a real mix of those things and then I get to do other fun things like consult for programs that I have been part of. I’m doing a lot of that, currently.
CK: And what brought you to this current role?
TB: I’ve always kept a part-time role here at CityKidz so that I could be what feels like a full-time parent. There were very specific needs that presented at home and we’ve always felt that I needed to be able to attend to those needs.
In the first few years, when we would develop new programs or roles I would be part of the inception process. Then, once [the program or project] needed a full-time person or I couldn’t delegate out the pieces enough, I would step out of leading that program.
Summer to Remember, Gift of Christmas, home visits or parts of Saturdays or KinderKidz are all things that, once they became more than the hours I could contribute, I would hand off to some wonderful person and consult for a little while on it and then let it go.
But all along the way I was doing things that included caring for people and looking for ways to celebrate people. So we talked about how I could step into that role more and also support managers. I thought maybe I could support at both ends. It allowed me to keep things flexible with home and also contribute and be part of the story at CityKidz.
CK: As you explained, working part-time has helped you to balance the needs of work and family, but with both you and Todd working at CityKidz, how do you two as a team build space and balance between the CityKidz and family spheres of your lives?
TB: Sometimes that’s a challenge depending on how many stories are currently happening. When it ends up being that all our stories are about CityKidz or our own children, we have to stop and regroup and redirect. So [Todd and I] usually have a bit of a debrief. Not the specifics, but a debrief around the things that are rolling around so that we can create some space and time around the other things.
I love creating memories and experiences so I’m often looking for ways to do that. Sometimes it’s harder to do with our entire family of four kids who are now young adults and teenagers. Getting us all together now is sometimes harder but I do love finding aspects of things that we’re doing together. I think that, for Todd and I, it’s filling [our lives] with these other things.
CityKidz for us is also very family-like and connected. So, I don’t think there’s a way that we shut CityKidz off or out completely. It’s about a healthy balance when you can have it.
CK: It’s clear that, in many ways, your CityKidz and personal lives are intricately woven, but are there things you do in your free time that are not for CityKidz or your family, things that are just for Tina?
TB: They’re usually somehow connected to the things we’re talking about. I love photography and my favourite subjects are people. What I love about it is capturing the memories of things.
I will create slideshows and other photography projects. It could be for us or it could be for other people. I love doing that for us and I have people in my life who will ask me to do that for them. I have made so many slideshows. There’s some comedy in that because I’m not gifted with technology but Apple products have helped me with that.
I love creating experiences and I love creating them for other people too. It could be backyard movie nights, it could be board games’ it could be puzzles, it could be going for ice-cream. Once people knew we had made a few of these Disney trips I have helped numerous people plan their own. I always have three or four itineraries ready to go of ideas for Disney and other places. I love going to new places and taking photos of them and making memories.
CK: You and Todd were married the same year CityKidz as we know it took shape. 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of both the organization and also your wedding. What new experiences and memories did you make to celebrate your special day?
TB: We celebrated early in the year by going to Disney World – one of our favourite places. We were there for our honeymoon and we’ve been with our children a few times. We wanted to return together to do all the fun things that were just for us.
It’s a place that we find inspiring and magical and full of creativity and ideas. We play well there. There’s lots of things that speak to us with a lot of joy and lightheartedness. Disney’s a place that taps into the child that’s in both of us. When we’re there we’re admiring the details and the way they do things and we come back with ideas about experiences and programs. We find it to be very inspiring.
CK: In the context of both CityKidz and your own life, what does 25 years mean to you?
TB: It’s all intertwined. It’s hard to believe in many ways. It’s one of those things where it feels like two things can be true: it’s gone so fast, and yet how did we accomplish so much in that time?
There’s so much life in that time. Looking over the 25 years, I couldn’t have imagined what we are doing today as the outcome of what we were starting 25 years ago. I don’t know I had that kind of imagination.
Todd likely had that kind of imagination and I was the lander of many ideas. So 25 years in some ways feels like a drop in the bucket and other ways is a really significant thing. When I look at our kids and our family here at CityKidz, there’s a deep sense of gratitude that we’ve been able to be part of this story and walk alongside all these wonderful people including our children and the people who are here and have been and the children who’ve been, and the families we’ve been connected to. There’s a lot of gratitude that we can continue to be doing this.
*This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Remember to come back next week for another behind-the-scenes look at one of the wonderful people who make up the CityKidz team!