Homeless Children’s Playtime Project Wins the Keller Award

Volunteers with the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project play with children at the homeless shelter at DC General. Photo: Skyler Badenoch 

The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project (HCPP), this year’s winner of the Capitol Hill Community Foundation’s Arnold Keller, Jr. Award, gives DC’s homeless children the chance to just be kids and play. With dedicated playrooms in several of DC’s homeless shelters and transitional housing programs, HCPP hopes to reduce the traumatic effects of homelessness through playtime. The $10,000 Keller Award will allow HCPP to expand their teen tutoring program and to provide staff to their DC General site, which is located at 1900 Massachusetts Ave, SE on Capitol Hill. Over 600 homeless children live in this facility.

HCPP’s Mission

HCPP’s staff and volunteers are driven by the belief that every child, regardless of their housing status, deserves the right to play. “Childhood is such a short, critical time,” says Jamila Larson, co-founder and executive director of HCPP  and a licensed clinical social worker. “Shelters can be damaging to child development,” Larson noted. Through dedicated playtime, DC’s homeless children receive one-on-one attention and have the opportunity to play with developmentally appropriate toys. While their children are playing, parents have the chance to do laundry, go grocery shopping or just get an hour to themselves. 

Larson was inspired to start this organization when she visited the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) shelter just a few blocks from the Capitol. “This shelter had a smoky TV lounge, sheets for doors, and the toys were kept in a closet so the kids didn’t make a mess,” Ms. Larson remembered. “These are not hardened criminals that live in these shelters. These are newborn babies that are coming home from the hospital, moms who’ve been through domestic violence, and really traumatic situations [of people] who have grown up in foster care,” Ms. Larson said.

The Importance of HCPP

Families in DC may lose their homes due a variety of factors, including rising rents or job loss. Regardless of the reason, however, at least 2,453 children are homeless in this city, according to the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates and DC Public Schools. With 125 volunteers and 10 weekly programs, HCPP brings some joy into homeless children’s lives and offsets the devastating impact of homelessness. At DC General, the largest family shelter in the city, HCPP has three rooms:  a playroom for babies and toddlers, an activity room for elementary-aged children and a tutoring room for teens. 

“Even though homelessness affects kids of every age group, the teens feel it most acutely, and the stakes are so high when teenagers are failing in school,” according to Ms. Larson. “Tutoring can help them get back on track academically.” The Keller Award will enable HCPP to hire dedicated staff to manage the DC General site and to expand their teen program from one to two nights of tutoring per week. “We wanted to create a safe space for teens…and help them position themselves to reach their goals and dreams,” Ms. Larson said.

Supporting the Community 

The Capitol Hill Community Foundation honors a local organization every year with the Keller Award, and gives grants twice a year to various programs in the following categories: children’s education; social services; arts, culture, and recreation for children and adults; and enhancement of the physical environment. “100% of the money raised goes to the community because administrative fees are paid for by the board,” according to Martha Huizenga, one of the Foundation’s board members. 

Ms. Huizenga and the Foundation’s board were particularly impressed with the multi-faceted services that HCPP offers. “Not only do they help children after school and help parents, but they also help the neighborhood,” Ms. Huizenga observed, by getting “kids get off the streets and giving them options about what they can do with their lives.” By supporting Hill-based schools and non-profits such as HCPP, the Capitol Hill Community Foundation strengthens the neighborhood and highlights organizations that rely on community involvement to survive.

How to Get Involved

For Capitol Hill residents interested in volunteering, the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital will be hosting Volunteer Capitol Hill on Saturday April 20, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  This event, sponsored by the Capitol Hill Community Foundation, will be an opportunity for Hill residents and others to connect to local non profit organizations seeking volunteers.

Through HCPP, Hill residents can donate gently used children’s clothes and school uniforms, strollers, toys and books. Of course, they may also donate their money and their time. “The kids eat up every ounce of attention that our volunteers are able to put out,” noted Ms. Larson, who encourages Hill residents interested in volunteering to attend one of the mandatory training sessions which HCPP offers every month. Volunteering with HCPP is a “great opportunity for us to help make [homeless children’s] stay on Capitol Hill as productive and supportive as possible to escape homelessness and get back on their feet.”

For more information, or to donate to HCPP go to www.playtimeproject.

Ellen Boomer is an Eastern Market resident, former teacher, current tutor and freelance writer. She can be reached at emboomer@gmail.com. 

DC General Homeless Shelter

Hello, I am Christina and I would like to donate to the DC General Homeless Shelter. I would need the POC information. I am currently station in Japan and have had severally people donate clothing to me and I have it boxed up awaiting to send it to the shelter for dissemination to needed children. There are also some women clothing as well.

Please assist or advise.

Thank you in advance,

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