Don’t Let Greed Stand in the Way of Child Development
By Jamila Larson, Executive Director
When I look at the steady stream of pictures coming through our social media of our preteens at play, it makes me so proud to know that our hard-working volunteers are so dedicated to giving this 8-12 age group an opportunity to be a child. How can anybody deny this opportunity to a child—especially one who already has adult responsibilities on their shoulders? Unfortunately, children living in shelters don’t always have fun summer adventures to look forward to and often feel the doors of opportunity are closed to them.
At Playtime, we always have to be creative with the options before us and fight for our kids to have the time and space they deserve to play. As we move from D.C. General Emergency Family Shelter, due to close this fall, to two additional overflow shelter hotels, we have encountered numerous roadblocks around limited space to run our programs.
Our 18-month run providing Playtime to more than 150 children so far at the Quality Inn has worked well—we nicknamed it “pop-up Playtime” because at the beginning of each session, we set up play stations around the hotel’s ballroom. What hasn’t worked is serving toddlers learning to walk with rambunctious preteens all in the same room.
So rather than deprive these youngsters at the hotels, we have planned to move our preteen program from D.C. General to the Quality Inn. Of the three hotel sites we will be serving in September, the Quality Inn offers by far the biggest and best space for us to develop a preteen program. We sent our request to the Department of Human Services for two additional evenings, but they responded that hotel management was denying the request and encouraged us to reach out to the hotel directly. So I did. And this was the response: “We would have to charge for the additional nights, $500 per evening.”
Wait. You mean $1,000 a week, or $50,000/year? What about a nonprofit rate?
“That is the nonprofit rate.”
To me, this is just another example of how the lack of respect for children’s needs goes well beyond the crisis at the border. We have been fighting for children to get the respect they deserve for fifteen years.
Often, overwhelmed shelter providers don’t always feel they have the capacity to do more for children, which given the demand is understandable. But barriers put up by a corporation trying to make money off the misery of children, is incomprehensible. When it’s greed standing in the way of Playtime opening our doors to preteens at the Quality Inn, it feels downright cruel.
We are not willing to turn away those preteens without a fight!
We sent a letter to Axar Management today asking them to donate the space to us for the children. We hope they will join our supporters and volunteers in realizing that the happiness of children is more important than money. We hope you will support us in our fight for play.