The Power of Playtime is More Than Play

Posted by on Dec 1, 2017 in Blog, Featured Stories |

By Jamila Larson, Executive Director

Photo by Christina Ehkhart

When four-year-old “Julian” joined our program at D.C. General last winter, he was always crying and wanted to be held. He and his three-year-old sister were both nonverbal and had been diagnosed with autism — the noisy chaos of the shelter environment seemed to be causing sensory overload. We discovered that they were not receiving any of the specialized services they were legally entitled to. Their mother, “Yvette” was struggling to care for them, as well as an infant and a toddler, while navigating her own needs. Though a caseworker at the shelter was trying to find the family housing, we know that many family’s needs go well beyond four walls.

Our Site Manager welcomed Yvette’s family to Playtime and provided the older two autistic children with their own volunteer to give one-on-one attention with special activities outside of the noisy playroom. Playtime’s social work interns enrolled them in a specialized school for children with disabilities where they began this past fall.

By the time Playtime’s new social worker started in October, Yvette had been at D.C. General for a year. One of the barriers she faced was not having a photo I.D. or the many vital records, such as her birth certificate and marriage certificate, required to receive an I.D. So, our social worker hopped on a bus with Yvette, with the little ones in tow, and helped her obtain all the required documents at the courthouse. Last month, Yvette finally received her photo I.D., which is essential when applying for additional critical services, including housing and disability programs.

Yvette asked for help with parenting, and we connected her to a home visiting program that will follow the family after they leave the shelter to help her children reach developmental milestones. Now, Julian and his sister are forming words and learning how to express themselves verbally. They are thriving in school and Julian’s crying episodes have decreased. We’re happy to report that the family has been accepted into a transitional housing program. Our social worker will visit them there to ensure the progress Playtime helped establish will continue during this time of transition.

This is the power of Playtime! Providing safe opportunities to play for children living in temporary housing, as well as connecting families with the services they need to thrive.

Your support of Playtime helps ensure that children like Julian and his siblings will not fall through the cracks of the homeless service system. This holiday season, please help us reach our goal of raising $100,000 to ensure that children experiencing homelessness in our nation’s capital receive the healing, learning, and joy that play provides. We cannot thank you enough for making these stories possible.

Happy Holidays from the Board, staff, volunteers and families of the Playtime Project!

Jamila ran Playtime as a volunteer since it was founded in 2003 and assumed the role as first full-time Executive Director in 2009. In 2012, she was named a Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian magazine for her leadership of Playtime.