“Hey, where’s Kieaira?!,” 6-year-old “Paul” shouted as he joined the other children at Playtime’s Summer Camp, at Franklin Park Apartments in Greenbelt, Md. He knew he was at Playtime and was looking for the Playtime Site Manager from Shepherd’s Cove Shelter in Capitol Heights, where he used to live.
Playtime’s community-based Summer Camp provides a continuum of care for Playtime children. Children like Paul are now able to feel the consistent presence and support of Playtime staff and volunteers both inside the shelter and out in the community. Other children, whose families have moved from a shelter to Franklin Park, know that Playtime will still be there for them.
On one recent day at Camp, ten children played games like Monopoly and ran outside to have fun on the playground. On another day, local DC artist Sarah Riley visited to teach the children how to make pottery cups and plates. Nine-year-old “Kevin,” from Playtime’s partner shelter, Warm Nights, shared that his favorite part of camp was “getting to play kickball with my sisters and the other kids!” He continued, “It’s fun to run around outside and play on the basketball court.”
For years, Playtime has heard from parents that they need daily programming for children during school breaks, especially summer vacations. Parents often juggle employment, arduous commutes on public transportation, multiple appointments with case managers, service providers, schools, and doctors, all while trying to find stable housing. School breaks pose a childcare emergency, and programs like summer camps fill almost immediately, can be expensive, pose transportation barriers, and do not always accommodate children with special needs.
Last summer, we piloted our first daily daytime Playtime program at Rita Bright Family and Youth Center, next door to DC’s Ward 1 short-term family housing site. This year’s Camp, made possible through a partnership with Camp Fire USA, provides children who have experienced family homelessness with activities for six hours a day for one month over the summer. Our plan is to pilot more camp programs during school breaks in the future, as part of our plan to expand access to play for Playtime families in community-based sites.
In the first weeks of Camp, a young girl we previously served at Shepherd’s Cove shelter told Camp Fire USA staff that she was having conflict with her mom. Because Playtime has served this family before, working with them at the shelter and providing move-out support, Playtime staff was able to collaborate with Camp Fire’s staff to follow-up on the girl’s concern, provide valuable context and history, and facilitate a resolution. Playtime’s Summer Camp partnership is the latest way we’re working to increase children’s access to the benefits of play and use play as a portal to family support and stability.