Jamila Larson with her family at Crater Lake, Ore.
Like many last year, my family’s long-planned big vacation had to be postponed due to COVID-19. What a relief to reschedule the trip for this July! We flew to San Francisco and traveled with three other families up the coast, visiting extraordinary national and state parks, including Yosemite, Lassen, Coos Bay, and Redwood.
This was a time when I needed to completely unplug from work to be present for my children and come back refreshed. But it was hard not to notice the profound homelessness in the Bay Area. The run-down campers and tent cities under so many freeway overpasses are overwhelming. I was particularly saddened to see children’s toys outside a tent—a stark reminder that families are living in these encampments, too.
While in the area, I met up with Playtime’s first staff member, Lana Tilley, who now serves as the Director of Development at the RYSE Youth Center in Richmond, Calif., where many of the young participants have experienced homelessness. It was a joy to meet her son and talk about Playtime’s play kits as an outreach tool to engage families. We wondered about the utility of providing such a service to families living in tent cities in nearby San Francisco.
At the San Francisco Marriott Marquis where my family stayed, we noticed colorful signs in the lobby that highlighted the hotel’s support of homeless initiatives. (The Richard E. and Nancy P. Marriott Foundation has been one of Playtime’s funders since 2012.) I was impressed with the hotel highlighting the issue and encouraging patrons to think about homelessness in a new way.
One sign noted: “Children who are homeless are five times more likely to experience homelessness as adults. Ending family homelessness for as many families as possible today will have a major impact on individual homelessness in the future.” And I couldn’t agree more. Supporting Playtime children today is a powerful investment in the future.
Homelessness never takes a vacation and going on a trip is a luxury most families we serve cannot afford. That’s why Playtime works to create extra-special experiences for children living in shelters. Even what we think of as typical summer fun for many children—water balloon games, arts and crafts activities, yoga with visiting instructors—can create long-lasting, positive summer vacation memories for children who may never fly across the country for a trip.
During a recent “water play” session at one of our partner shelter sites, our site manager Tiesha Edwards said they were filling and tossing water balloons when it started to rain. As the group ran around trying to clean up all the toys and activity pieces, everyone was getting soaked, yet they were laughing and enjoying the reprieve from the heat. Moments like this are a precious part of childhood summers that all children deserve.
Playtime strives to bring fun and educational experiences to children in shelter with the goal of developing their sense of self-worth, strengthening their mental health, improving their optimism for the future, and ultimately, ending the generational cycle of homelessness.
We can do this work because of funders like Marriott and the countless individual supporters like you, who understand the enormous benefits of play. Let’s continue to focus on bringing the joy of new experiences to children today so they will enjoy unlimited opportunities for their future.