Excerpt from her remarks at an appreciation ceremony on April 19, 2017 at the Pepco Edison Place Gallery.
One of the first children I got to know well at Playtime was a child I’ll call Z. Z was smart and funny and kind. He came every week, and sometimes his young mom would join him. Most of the parents used Playtime to catch up on their laundry or their sleep. It’s a welcome short break from their kiddos. But Z’s mom loved arts and crafts. She’d ask, “What are we making today?” And she’d stay and paint or color with us. So we got to know her. We knew she was working and taking classes and reconnecting with extended family. Eventually Z and his mom moved out of the shelter. We had high hopes that their little family would make it.
And then a few months later, I read in the paper that this beloved 7-year-old child had fallen through the ice on a pond in Oxon Hill, and he had died.
I was distraught. “These kids cannot catch a break!” I kept thinking. I went to the funeral, and the church was packed. I was able to file past the open casket and see him in his little white suit, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to his devastated mom. So I printed up about a dozen photos I had taken of Z at Playtime, I put them in a little photo album, and I mailed it to her. It was a way for me to process my own grief, but I didn’t expect a response.
A few weeks later, Z’s mom sent me a thank you note. She told me how much the photos meant to her. She said simply, “Playtime made us happy.” Playtime made us happy. And that’s why I keep doing this. Playtime makes people happy.
Ok, one more story, since that one was sad, and most of them are really really happy. I drive a very recognizable little green car, covered in bumper stickers. Each Tuesday evening when the weather is nice, as I pull up in front of Hope Apartments, I am greeted from the open windows not by name, but with happy shouts of one word: “Playtime! Playtime! Playtime!” What an honor it is to be associated with the word that means happiness to these precious children: playtime.
And so I thank the board, the donors, the staff, the other volunteers, the parents and children, and everyone who makes Playtime possible. We volunteers become Playtimers because we feel strongly that all children deserve play. We want the children who experience homelessness in D.C. to have a chance to laugh and be loud and silly, to jump and sing and express their creativity. In other words, to be children. But those of us who keep coming back week after week, year after year, are Playtimers because it changes us too. It fills our hearts. Playtime makes people happy.