In addition to our large community of volunteers, the Playtime Project is mobilized and equipped by a dedicated small but mighty staff.
Jamila Larson, LICSW – Executive Director, Co-Founder
Jamila has served as a social worker in our nation’s capital since she moved from Wisconsin in 1996 to work for the Children’s Defense Fund. After earning her Masters degree in Social Work, she became a social worker at Bright Beginnings and then Regional Director for LIFT. While running the Playtime Project as a volunteer, she served as a school social worker, then as Community School Director for the National Center for Children and Families at a DCPS in southeast D.C. for five years, where she managed a mental health and after school program. Jamila ran Playtime as a volunteer since it was founded in 2003, and she 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. She loves to go on family adventures outside with her husband and two children.
Renetta M. Davis, M.Ed – Managing Director
Renetta is a native Washingtonian and a proud graduate of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Being the eldest of six and growing up in D.C. during a very tough time, Renetta quickly became aware of the disparities that poverty stricken children face in regards to their ability to access resources and high quality programs. While serving as an early childhood educator, a Hill staffer and an AmeriCorps volunteer, Renetta earned a BA in Political Science from Trinity Washington University in 2005. Upon graduation, Renetta launched a career in youth services and non-profit management. Rooted in the belief that well organized educational institutions are key to changing the scope of a child’s life, Renetta secured an M.Ed in Education Administration and Policy in 2007 from Howard University to better support her work as an advocate that believes in academic institutional change.
Tora Burns – Curriculum & Program Support Coordinator
A proud native of Detroit, Tora Burns is a proponent of education being a major facet of American society. Her experiences growing up in Detroit equipped her with the ability to be a change agent for her community. After completing a five-year dual program in which she received a Bachelor’s degree in Afro-American Studies and a Master’s in Elementary Education, Tora began her professional career teaching Kindergarten in both public charter and D.C. Public Schools. After eight months traveling across Europe, Tora has dedicated her expertise to further impact youth outside the traditional classroom setting with the very thing she loved the most as a child: playtime. Tora has a vibrant personality and loves books, her family and friends, and music.
Nicolien Buholzer – Volunteer Program Manager
Born and raised in Northeast Ohio, Nicolien has long fostered a passion for education and youth programming. She earned her B.S. in journalism from Ohio University and then moved West, spending time in both Alaska and Los Angeles working with youth in various capacities. In L.A. she served AmeriCorps terms with two different area nonprofits focused on education and literacy. Before coming to Playtime Project, she developed curriculum for and helped run an after-school creative writing and tutoring program for youth in underserved neighborhoods in L.A. When she’s not at work, you can find her hiking with her dog Brea, biking along the waterfront, or whipping up something new in her kitchen.
Hermen Felten – Database & Development Coordinator
Hermen is originally from The Netherlands and moved to the D.M.V. in 2017. Growing up, Hermen developed a strong passion for people and achieving social justice for those less fortunate. He went on to earn his B.S. in Social Work and then worked with teenagers to help them become more self-sufficient. Working in fundraising and communications, he developed strategies and managed the database system to raise funds and awareness for refugees in Europe. Hermen also serves on the board of Hope’s Journey, a non-profit aiming to restore hope and provide practical, comprehensive support to those who are currently or at risk of experiencing homelessness. In his spare time, Hermen and his wife organize monthly community events in their apartment to help residents build community.
Sarah Fraser – Site Manager for Quality Inn
Raised in Massachusetts until high school and then in North Carolina, Sarah began her career in the field of international relations, living abroad in Tokyo, Japan after graduating from UNC-CH. Despite working in different fields, Sarah volunteered with various organizations while overseas, including those concerned with children’s welfare. After moving back to the U.S. and then to the District of Columbia, Sarah decided it was time for a career change. She began to pursue her masters in social work from Rutgers University through their distance learning program, completing her fieldwork in D.C. During this time, Sarah also began to volunteer with Playtime as a site captain at D.C. General. With D.C. General closing, Sarah joined the team as a Site Manager at Quality Inn. In her free time, Sarah studies languages including Japanese and Korean, is working toward her degree, and spends as much time outdoors as she can.
Melanie Hatter – Communications Coordinator
Melanie has a long career in communications. She started out as a journalist at several newspapers in Virginia then moved into corporate communications, working in the hotel and international development industries. She is an award-winning author of two novels, “Malawi’s Sisters” and “The Color of My Soul,” and a short story collection, “Let No One Weep for Me: Stories of Love and Loss.” She serves on the board of the Hurston/Wright Foundation supporting black writers and participates in the PEN/Faulkner Foundation Writers in Schools program – sharing her novel with high-school students is a huge thrill. Melanie received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Hampton University and graduated from the master’s in writing program at Johns Hopkins University. When not working, she can be found exploring the outdoors with her dog, Karma.
Brieanna Iyomahan – Program and Curriculum Associate
Brieanna was born and raised in Maryland. A recent graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park, Brieanna earned a B.S. in Early Childhood Education/Special Education and a B.A. in Psychology. She has had a variety of experiences involving direct and indirect service to children and their education. In addition to student teaching within Montgomery County Public Schools, D.C. Public Schools, and Prince George’s County Public Schools; she has worked on multiple federally funded research projects concerning academic achievement and curriculum for at-risk students. She is currently earning her Specialist in Psychology in School Psychology and loves exploring how to further develop the socio-emotional skills of children. In her spare time, she loves reading books and watching documentaries.
Courtney Mercado – Social Worker
Born and raised in New Orleans, La., Courtney’s upbringing led her to develop a passion for working and advocating for displaced children and families. As a first-generation college student, she was consumed with ways to understand human behavior and how to sustain effective human service organizations. Upon receiving her Bachelor of Social Work from Morgan State University, Baltimore, Courtney spent time in Puerto Rico and South Africa working on community development projects and improving therapeutic practices for children. While pursuing her master’s degree from Howard University, Courtney continued to work with domestic and international community nonprofits for the purpose of developing, managing, and sustaining effective community programs for at-risk youth. She has experience working with children from various urban environments with the sole purpose of improving their overall life experiences. In her spare time, Courtney enjoys traveling internationally, cooking new recipes, and reading.
Madison Sampson – Preteen Program Manager
Raised in Charlotte, N.C., Madison earned a B.A in Anthropology and her Master’s of Public Affairs from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her passion for social justice and community development has grown stronger over the years through teaching and her work with various advocacy organizations and community initiatives over the years. She is excited about the opportunity to stay connected to local community during her studies as a doctoral student at George Washington University, pursuing a PhD in public policy and administration. In her free time, Madison enjoys playing sports, watching action movies, and trying out new recipes.
Ron Sheffer – Site Manager for Days Inn and DASH
Ron has an extensive background working with children in various settings. Over the past ten years, he has served as a recreation and education supervisor for a psychiatric treatment center and special education resource aide at an elementary school. As a recreation and education supervisor, he planned and supervised activities to help middle and high school-aged students gain confidence and team building skills. In his role at a residential psychiatric treatment facility for emotionally disturbed youth, he oversaw the daily operations of the facility’s entire children’s unit. A dedicated youth and family advocate, Ron has prior experience working with the homeless population in Washington, D.C., having served as the educational services manager for a local shelter. Ron was the Playground Manager at D.C. General when the playground first opened. Having lived in Alaska, he embraced working outside in the elements! Ron worked with over 500 children at D.C. General’s playground, developing their gross motor skills, peer support and sharing. Ron is now the Site Manager for two hotel sites, where he enjoys serving children and their families.
Brandi Stanton – Development Director
Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, Brandi Stanton earned a B.A. in English from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in English from Indiana University. She taught college-level literature, writing, and gender studies classes for 13 years and served as an academic advisor for first-generation college students and faculty consultant for teaching first-year students. Before she came to Playtime, Brandi lead grant writing and communications at Latin American Youth Center in Washington, DC, for five years. She lives in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of DC with her 19-year-old cat and finds any excuse to lie on a beach.
Rebecca Staple – Operations & Special Projects Manager
Born and raised in Wisconsin, Rebecca has been involved from a young age with housing nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together. Throughout college at Lawrence University she continued the trend as an AmeriCorps volunteer. Rebecca helped to run the campus volunteer center, coordinating and leading students in volunteer projects in the surrounding community. After graduating with a BA in International Relations, she moved to D.C. to work as a paralegal for an employment and housing discrimination law firm. Along with case management, Rebecca managed and distributed millions of dollars in grant funding to civil rights organizations across the country. Rebecca also brings her freelance photography experience to snap photos of the Playtime community. When she’s not at Playtime, you can catch Rebecca recording all of her cooking and travel adventures at TheDistrictTable.com.
Fact – The National Center on Family Homelessness
Common causes of family homelessness include lack of affordable housing, extreme poverty, decreasing government support, and domestic violence.