As we head into 2023, Playtime celebrates 20 years of ensuring children have access to the healing power of play, regardless of their housing status. Can you believe it?
If you have been with us from the start, you will remember an organization assembled with a small-but-mighty band of volunteers ready to serve. Through the years, our volunteer numbers have grown, staff were brought on, and programs were added and adapted, all to expand our reach and impact. We’ve weathered the changing landscapes of family homelessness, the ongoing pandemic, and systemic injustices that create barriers to a family’s safety and stability. Though the world around us will continue to shift and change, as we look ahead to our 20th year, one thing remains the same: our commitment to play and to our families. We know that play is essential in developing strong, resilient, self-assured kids. In 2023, we will focus on maintaining our excellent play programs, as well as helping our children and families achieve success beyond the shelter.
We have kept in touch with a handful of families along the way, but as families come and go, historically Playtime’s chapter ends at the shelter. Last year, at the family’s and shelter’s request, we began providing more support to families upon their move and following up with community referrals thereafter. This year over the holidays, we had the opportunity to help a family move into their very own space. Having been in shelters for several years, they received a key to their new apartment a few weeks before Christmas. We were delighted for her and her three children—what a joy and relief it would be after sharing a room with several families to have a place to call home.
Except for one problem: they didn’t have any furniture. Understandably, this mother didn’t want her children sleeping on the floor, so they couldn’t yet move in. The injustice of being so close to having their own house, and yet unable to leave the shelter, moved us to action. The shelter asked us for help after the county ran out of pandemic emergency funds that had been dispatched for furniture. After just a quick email, our community met the call:
I’m running to Target this afternoon – what can I get?
I’ll put in $150 for this... What’s still needed?
My sister has a new dresser in the box. I’ll bring to you.
The offers poured in. In just a few days time, neighbors were willing to set this family up with the essentials, and more. The children had been such beloved Playtime participants for more than a year. With their ages and interests in mind, volunteers purchased special bed sheets for each child. While personal sheets may not seem significant, when you’ve lived in communal spaces for years, this level of detail for a child is meaningful. Our volunteers were able to show this family dignity and respect, with the purchase of some Paw Patrol and Batman sheets.
In 2023, we want to make sure that all our Playtime participants experience dignity and respect. What does this look like at Playtime, after 20 years of serving children and families? It looks like: continuing to develop our research-based and trauma-informed play curricula; meeting families where they are, at shelters in D.C. and Prince George’s County, MD, as well as community-based locations such as apartment complexes and schools. It looks like keeping the safe, reliable, and FUN spirit of play integrated in everything we do—both in, and beyond the shelter.
We will continue to make sure this family has what they need to thrive in their new community so the boys (who asked their mom to bring them back to the shelter for Playtime nights) can find safety and joy through play in their new neighborhood.