Playtime at Overflow Shelter is Off and Running!
“You mean, we can run around and play?” The 7-year-old’s eyes grew large. Playtime staff members were setting up for the launch of Playtime for Overflow Shelters at the Quality Inn on New York Avenue and encouraging parents to bring their children as they came down to pick up dinner from the motel’s dining area. “I’m going to ask my mom,” the boy said, dashing off.
Thirteen volunteers arrived with plenty of time to set up and turn the motel’s ballroom into a play area for children, aged 3 to 7. A nervous energy bubbled through the room – with such a large space, lots of toys, and more than a dozen volunteers at the ready, would the children come?
Right on time, at 6:45 p.m. when program was scheduled to begin, a group of youngsters bounded into the room. As parents signed them in, one little boy grabbed the hand of a volunteer and said, “Wanna run? I like to run. But we’re usually not allowed to here,” and the pair took off running across the carpeted expanse. By the end of the night, 27 children showed up to play.
John Pray, one of the volunteers racing with the youngsters, said the highlight of the night came when a little girl, playing doctor, checked his teeth and blood pressure, and announced that he was no longer allowed to eat candy or meat, or play video games!
“I expected it to be loud and occasionally chaotic, which it was – and that’s great,” he said. This was his first time volunteering with Playtime and by the end of the night he felt pretty good. “We’d done some good in these kids’ lives, and I’m looking forward to the next time.”
“Oh, they love Playtime,” one mom said of her four children. “They always look forward to it.” She was well familiar with the program, having been at DC General Family Shelter before moving to the Quality Inn. When she learned it was coming to the motel, she made sure to encourage other families to bring their children. “It makes such a difference for them being able to play,” she added.
Tiesha Edwards, our new part-time Site Manager, who oversees the Playtime for Overflow Shelters program, said she was eager to get started and excited to finally meet the children she’s been preparing for since December. “By the end of the night, I was overcome with the feeling of satisfaction from watching program come together,” she said. “We had a good number of children attend Playtime and they were really engaged in the space, with toys and interacting with the volunteers.”
Activities included dressing up; playing board games; decorating a cardboard Snoopy house; playing with cars, trucks and dolls; and reading books with volunteers.
“My favorite moment was seeing the kids come in so excited and diving into the toys,” said Laurie Heim, another first-time volunteer. “That was great!”
“As program continues, I hope we are able to meet the needs of the children and families through trauma informed play,” said Edwards. “I hope in the next 10-20 years, the children remember the service Playtime Project provided and that it changed their lives for the better.”
More than 1,300 children live in shelter overflow motels in D.C., and this is the first time some of them will have access to programming tailored to meet their special needs. Help us serve this population of children living in temporary housing and consider purchasing an item from our Amazon Wishlist to provide everything we need to keep children playing in the shelter motel.