In addition to our large community of volunteers, the Playtime Project is mobilized and equipped by a dedicated team of staff and site managers.
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.
Tiesha Edwards – Site Manager for Overflow Shelter
Tiesha was born and raised in the nation’s capital where she still resides, and is completing her degree in sociology and elementary education at Trinity Washington University. As a child, she always enjoyed working with children but her interest grew into a career during an opportunity to mentor elementary students. Searching for related experience, Tiesha explored and attained various internships where she could pursue her passion for working with children, and apply her sociological lense to better meet the needs of underserved children. As an intern for Playtime Project, Tiesha fell in love with the organization and its mission. Her goal is to help children effectively express their feelings and emotions to promote socialization and overall wellbeing. Tiesha enjoys trips to beaches, furry animals, and babysitting her nieces and nephew.
Sonia Gahimbare – Social Worker
A proud native of Burundi Africa, Sonia’s social work career began on a playground in Fayettville, Arkansas, where she was recruited by her elementary school counselor to be a peer mediator. Deescalating and mediating monkey bar disputes gave birth to her passion for social services, and in time, social justice and the human condition. After moving to Wyoming in middle school, she received her undergraduate degree in social work and minor in African American and Diaspora studies from the University of Wyoming. Sonia then moved to D.C. in 2011 where she obtained her Master’s in Social Work at Howard University School of Social Work. Sonia’s concentration at Howard was Displaced Populations where she found her niche in homelessness and housing services. She has five years experience serving D.C. residents, from working with elderly tenants at risk of eviction, to spending the past three years working with families in the Rapid Rehousing program. Sonia is currently licensed in DC as an Independent Clinical Social Worker, and is excited to get back to the playground, and be a part of an organization that is equally as motivated to providing compassionate, competent, and trauma informed care to DC’s children experiencing homelessness, and their families.
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 the author of “The Color of My Soul,” which won the 2011 Washington Writers’ Publishing House Fiction Prize, and a short story collection, “Let No One Weep for Me: Stories of Love and Loss.” She volunteers with the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, serves on the board of the Hurston/Wright Foundation supporting black writers, and is a regular participant in the PEN/Faulkner Foundation’s 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.
Kasey LaFlam – Development Officer
Kasey has spent over a decade working to support youth and families in communities in southwestern New Hampshire, New York City, and D.C., with the majority of her work focused on empowering survivors of domestic and sexual violence. In New Hampshire, she led the prevention education and community outreach efforts for a community-based crisis center, where she was responsible for delivering over 200 programs annually, reaching more than 6,000 community members. Since 2007 she has been involved in fundraising for several non-profits, ranging from grass-roots organizations to an international research institution focused on women and girls and coordinating fundraising events from Los Angeles to London. Kasey received her M.Sc. in Community Planning from Columbia University and her B.A. in Social Science from Keene State College. She currently volunteers as a youth tutor for a local non-profit in Georgia-Petworth and on the weekends enjoys exploring the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood with her puppy, Ollie.
Michelai Lowe, M.Ed – Pre-Teen & Teen Program Manager at D.C. General
Born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, Michelai began her journey in youth empowerment work at an early age. As a first generation college graduate she developed a passion for supporting the access, recruitment and retention of historically low-income students in Higher Education. As a Social Justice Educator, Michelai works with youth and young adults designing curriculum that engages students to create change in the classroom and in the communities which they live. Through challenging issues of oppression , she also has developed a passion for researching and working with youth who use intergroup dialogue as a tool to heal from trauma. Michelai completed her M.Ed in Social Justice Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and her B.A in Sociology with a minor in Counseling and Social Change from San Diego State University.
Ron Sheffer – Site Manager for D.C. General
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 also 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 the when it first opened. Having had experience living 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 at D.C. General, where he looks forward to continuing to serve children and their families.
Rebecca Staple – Operations & Special Projects Coordinator
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 Playtime Projects 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.
Deborah Sherman – Volunteer Coordinator
Deborah grew up outside of Boston and moved to St. Louis for college. While pursuing her undergraduate degree, she volunteered – and eventually ran a volunteer program – for college tutors at a local middle school. This experience sparked Deborah’s dedication to providing youth-positive & trauma informed programming in schools and extracurricular settings. After graduation, Deborah moved to D.C. and worked for a small nonprofit, supporting a team to run U.S.-based summer service-learning trips for Jewish teens. During this time, Deborah volunteered with Playtime at the D.C. General’s Teen Program; she is excited to bring her experiences volunteering to this role and continue to support and celebrate volunteers. This past year, Deborah served as an Americorps member with AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, living cooperatively with 12 other corps members and working in the Programs department at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Anacostia. She is excited to bring her experience working directly with teens and managing volunteers to this new position. When not at Playtime, you can spot Deborah biking around D.C. and putting bumper stickers on everything she owns.
Fact – The National Center on Family Homelessness
Common causes of homelessness include sudden emergency such as illness or family conflict, a poor job market, domestic violence, family separation, or loss of breadwinner.