A Day With the Kids of the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project

Posted: April 13, 2013 by thehomelesspage in Events, Organizations, Original Stories
Tags: , , , , , ,

By Lauren Hodges

DC General, once a major hospital for residents of Southeast DC, was closed in 2001 and now acts as an emergency center for the city’s homeless. The building, located across from the DC jail, houses about 600 children and their families.

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On a surprisingly hot April afternoon, parents gather at the east entrance with strollers and diaper bags, waiting to get through security. They’re lined up to drop their kids for a few hours of carefree fun at the on-site branch of The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project or HCPP.

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I meet site manager Danielle Rothman in the hallway outside the playroom, about 20 minutes before the children arrive. We walk around, hanging dried finger paintings on the walls, and discussing her time with the project.

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“I started volunteering at another location years ago,” she says. “Now I’m a staff member here.”

IMG_1117 More volunteers arrive and start setting up projects for the kids on tables. There’s little time before the first eager little faces appear in the doorway, ready to exercise their rights…which, according to HCPP, is a child’s right to play.

The project was started in 2003 by Jamila Larson, a social worker, and Regina Kline, a lawyer. They helped build a playroom in a shelter a few blocks from the Capitol building, collecting toys, supplies and afternoon snacks from the community. The program was granted 501(c)3 status in 2005. The program’s website tallies playtime services for more than a 1,000 local children over the past eight years.

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HCPP’s six playroom sites across the city still rely heavily on donations.

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“We get them mostly from private donors,” says Danielle, pulling out a pile of tissue paper so the kids can make paper flowers. “We take whatever we can get.”

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The room fills up quickly and I’m pulled into a plastic tea and pizza party. A six-year-old girl hands me a dented cookie covered with Mr. Potato Head pieces. As I pretend to nibble a blue shoe, a small, sleepy girl crawls into my lap and begins to suck her thumb. The other kids seem to overwhelm her, so we move to the book corner to read on the floor. Her eyelids are heavy and she slowly turns the pages.

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“She’s usually pretty quiet,” one of the volunteers tells me. “But if she looks tired, you should talk to Danielle about it. We like to keep track of how the kids are doing. They go through a lot.”

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It’s a sobering reminder that the staff and volunteers do much more than just hang out with the kids. Growing up in temporary housing can be traumatic for a child and the daily playtime gives them a few hours each day to develop in a safe, happy environment. Visit http://www.playtimeproject.net for more information on volunteering, donations or other ways to help.

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