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Start a child center here…launch a college in India – that’s Alice for you!

Photo of Alice Lal in 1975 at first LAMC child development center.
Alice Lal in 1975 at first LAMC child development center.

Alice Lal remembers that day in 1975 as if it were yesterday.

She had been appointed director of the child development center at the brand new Mission College and her first task was to find a site for the center. The college didn’t have a campus then. For two days, she looked at many sites throughout the northeast Valley without any luck.

"I was so frustrated," she recalled. "On the third day I prayed to God and said, ‘Please let me find a place today.’" At 4th and Maclay, her car sputtered – then "died" in front of a building. As she walked around looking for an open door and a phone, Alice realized the place was perfect for a child center. She later learned that the building was about to be placed on a lease list.

"I couldn’t believe it – the perfect building," she said. "And, you know, the funny thing? When I went out to my car, it started right away!"

The way Alice figured it, if that wasn’t a sign from above then such signs don’t exist.

Twenty-nine years later and after caring for about 900 children, Alice has retired as director of the Campus Child Development Center, the only director the center has ever known. Although she began her career as a nurse and has taught classes at Mission College in child development and psychology, all of her 49-year career as an educator has been spent in early childhood development centers. Two accomplishments give her the greatest satisfaction. One involves the many times her expertise allowed her to identify disabilities in children that even their parents were unaware of. She recalled one child who was hard of hearing; another who was blind in one eye. Alice was able to work with the parents to get the children the special help they needed.

She also boasts of her role in helping to extend child center hours into the evening. Mission was the first college in the district to offer an evening child care program.

Photo of Alice Lal chatting with children at the Campus Child Development Center.
Alice Lal chats with children at the Campus Child Development Center.

"That made me proud, to be part of something that recognized that evening students have the same rights and needs as day students," she said.

Indeed, when it comes to childcare, it’s very personal for Alice Lal. As a young émigré from India, Lal was a single mother in a new country who needed to work. When she couldn’t find affordable childcare, she made the bold but heartbreaking decision to send her 15-month-old daughter back to India, where Alice’s mother could care for her.

"It was a traumatic, painful experience for me," she said of the 10-month separation. "I cried almost every day until I got my child back. But that’s why I went into childcare."

So when a mother comes to Alice, crying about a problem related to her child and Alice hugs her, it’s not an empty gesture. Alice has been there. "I’ve had so many parents cry on my shoulder. If I can help them in any way, I do. I’ve even given some of them money, if that’s what they needed."

After nearly 50 years in education, you’d think she was ready for a rest. Not so. She has long desired to share her knowledge and experience with her native countrymen. This week, she returns to India to help start a junior college in Kominapalli, near Hyderabad. She will help develop curriculum, hopes to establish an on-line connection between that school and Mission College…and she’s even helping the architects plan the school.

"My life has been so full and gratifying that the only thing left for me to do is to go back to India and complete what I’ve always wanted to do," she said.

Alice Lal’s many friends at Mission College and in the community plan a recognition event for her when she returns from India in the spring.

– BY EDUARDO PARDO  /  Photos: (top) Courtesy of Alice Lal; (bottom) Lydia Chung