By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jan 27, 2004 at 5:05 AM

{image1}In the late '70s, a group of families in Bay View lessened the emotional and financial hardships of childcare by starting the Bay View Childcare Co-op. It is still in existence today and Claudia Heller de Messer is the current president.

"I didn't have any friends with children, so the co-op was a great way to get to know other parents and to find people I was comfortable with to watch my kids," says Heller de Messer, the mother of a 3-year-old and a 15-month-old. "I don't have any family in town, so this is the only way I get anything done."

Heller de Messer and her husband Kirk, the associate director of graduate admissions at Cardinal Stritch, use the service 10 to 15 times a month. Claudia, a certified teacher, tutors home-schooled children in Spanish a couple of mornings a week and occasionally tutors older students in the evenings.

Other families use the service once or twice a month, but because the co-op works on a point system, no one ever feels taken advantage of. The system is simple: when you provide childcare, you get points, and when you "hire" a sitter, you spend points.

The co-op does not offer full-time childcare for working parents. Instead, it's a service that's available to parents who want a night on the town, attend a specific appointment or have very part-time work hours.

When a family needs childcare, they contact the co-op member of their choice to set up "the sit" and then inform the secretary of the arrangement so he or she can log the points.

There are 15 active families in the co-op and 15 alumni families. The children currently range in age from 10 months to 7 years old.

The group sponsors four events a year, two for the entire family and two for adults only. Annual co-op dues are $24, which cover the cost of most events. Family events included swimming parties, picnics and ice cream socials, and parents enjoyed wine tastings and an Oktoberfest celebration. The co-op also has monthly playgroups and coffee gatherings.

Alcohol is not permitted at family events and is never paid for out of the dues. "We all pitch it a few extra dollars for alcohol-related adult events," says Heller de Messer.

To join the co-op, families must live within the Bay View area, specifically North to Lincoln Avenue, South to Howard Avenue, East to Lake Michigan and West to Howell Avenue. Also, potential members need to be invited to attend playgroups and attend at least two before beginning the co-op's interviewing process.

"The co-op has been a great lifeline for us," says Michael Harryman, who joined the co-op with his wife, Colleen, and 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Nora, last summer. "We've not only found it a great social outlet for our daughter, but Colleen and I have also become good friends with many of the families and it's helped bring our already close-knit community closer. It's just another example of what makes living in Bay View so cool!"

According to Heller de Messer, there are very few glitches with the system, but occasionally there are families with conflicting parenting styles or children that don't get along. In these cases, families simply don't exchange services.

"My closest friends are now mothers in the co-op," says Heller de Messer. "Best of all, it creates a true community. You walk down the street and you know people, and it's been this way for more than thirty years."

For more information, e-mail Claudia Heller de Messer at

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.