Why Donate: A Broke College Student’s Story

Posted by on Jul 1, 2018 in Blog, Featured Stories |

by Jamila Larson, Executive Director

Photo by Bailey Conard

I was shocked to discover her name on a new donor list last week.

There’s got to be only one Elizabeth Killough in Detroit, Michigan. But why would this struggling college student become a recurring monthly donor giving $25/month, $300/year?

Elizabeth works full-time at an obstetrics department of a busy Michigan hospital while she also attends school full-time at Wayne State University. In between studying and working overtime, she helps her mother raise her nephews who have been in and out of foster care. Whenever she can, she dotes on her nieces in Texas, for whom she serves as proud godmother. Like all of us who care about children, she was stopped dead in her tracks by the news of family separations at the border, and she wanted to do something about the children.

But how would she know what charities are reputable and actually making a difference?

Then she remembered that I (her Aunt Jamila) runs the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project in Washington, D.C. She knows that the Playtime Project invests in child and family stability through our child-centered play programs and social work support for parents. She also knows first-hand how critical these services are.

“I had a challenging childhood, with my parents not being able to raise me, and now I see my nephews struggle after not getting what they needed, and I just want to do something to help prevent what we went through,” she explained. “You know, I spend $25 a month on Starbucks; I can give $25 to help Playtime help more children.”

Elizabeth is the picture of resilience for the children in her life, and now for the children at Playtime. As a Playtime donor, she is helping to create a world where children are secure, not separated.

Recent columns in the Atlantic, Huffington Post, and New York Times have exposed the fact that brutally neglecting the needs of children didn’t just start at the border. The ignored cries of children who this nation, in effect, traumatized by detaining in cages, shook us to our core. But what about the fact that our country incarcerates more children in cages than any other industrialized nation, or that the United Nations is sounding the alarm over America’s staggering child poverty rates, which results in 2.5 million children (or 1 in 30) experiencing homelessness each year? Annie Lowery in the Atlantic says, “the system is rife with racial inequality and experts argue that the United States’ extraordinary tolerance of child poverty is one driver of its family-separation rates.”

When I visited our future Playtime site at one of the hotels last week, the staff forbade us from leaving our child-sized table and chairs or a play kitchen in the corner of the dining room, for fear “the children would want to play.” This is not the Victorian era; this is 2018, folks!

We’ve got plenty of brain science showing the damage of poverty and the trauma of homelessness and the importance of early childhood investments. We know the disproportionate rates of family separation in the form of foster care among parents who have experienced homelessness as well as their children. We’ve got to fundamentally make a decision as a people about whether we put children’s needs first or continue to see children as an afterthought.

Photo by Bailey Conard

I want to thank my niece for inspiring me to do more with what we have. Shaking our heads (or our fists) while reading the news at Starbucks is not going to make a difference. We can all do more to speak out and act when we see children’s needs going unmet and put our money where our mouth is, no matter how much.

If you want to join Elizabeth in becoming a recurring donor, simply check Monthly or Quarterly on our donation page. We appreciate all your support!

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.