By Kathryn Millhorn
There have been numerous studies on the importance of play in a child’s healthy growth and development. But when families are homeless, even temporarily, children often find playtime isn’t an option. Studies show that “play becomes even more critical for children living in transition as a healing force to cope and restore normalcy to their lives…Playtime reduces potential trauma by engaging youth cognitively, physically, and emotionally, allowing children to build healthy relationships with caring adults and other children.”
Locally the Family Support Center of South Sound fosters a vision of “a community where all families are valued and nurtured and have the resources to be strong, healthy, and self-sufficient.” They offer parent education, family and homeless resource services, and supervised visitation support thanks to community donors, grants, and fundraising.
On November 7, Family Support Center welcomed the community to visit their brand new playground facility at their Pear Blossom Place Shelter at 837 7th Avenue SE in downtown Olympia. The playground was built with the generous support of the Leadership Thurston County (LTC) team, a program of the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce.
City of Olympia Senior Planner and LTC member Stacey Ray explains that “LTC’s goal is to educate, prepare, and inspire Thurston County professionals to engage in leadership roles within our regional community. The Class of 2015 was the first in recent memory to adopt a class project. We set a goal to raise the funds necessary to purchase and install a playground for the families at Pear Blossom Place and we accomplished our goal!”
“Our Leadership Thurston County class, thanks in part to a significant donation from the Hawks Prairie Rotary, raised over $15,000 to provide a commercial-grade playground for Pear Blossom,” adds Ray.
Ray laughs that “the night the playground was installed at 7:30 p.m. there were kids from Pear Blossom ready to play on it! That tells us we’ve been successful!”
Fellow LTC member Bob Heck, a financial advisor with Kiley Juergens Wealth Management, described the process as very direct and hands-on. “As a class we set a goal to reach out to our own personal networks. We worked diligently to identify individuals, businesses and other community partners that might be interested in our project. Wherever possible, we made the request for support in-person. As a class, we had the support of the Thurston County Chamber Foundation so all gifts were tax deductible, this was a big help in keeping our overall project costs low.”
Family Support Center Executive Director Schelli Slaughter raves about the collaboration with Leadership Thurston County. “This project is really a dream come true! Our mission at the Family Support Center is working together to strengthen all families in order to enhance the safety, health, and wellbeing of children in our community and this project truly exemplifies that. This playground is the biggest gift we could ask for right before the holidays. This is the missing piece to our puzzle that really makes Pear Blossom Place a family support community. It will be a place where families can gather together, kids, and parents can strengthen their social connections and most of all kids can just have fun!”
Slaughter continues, “We know that homeless kids are twice as likely to suffer from physical and developmental delays, health problems, obesity, and depression; a big reason for that is that homeless children often do not have opportunities to play and climb and run in a safe and stimulating environment. Play gives kids the freedom to forget their worries for a while. So whether they live in the apartments permanently or are just staying here for a short time at the shelter while we help their parents to find permanent housing, they will remember this place as a place of joy.”
“Each year hundreds of kids are going to have the opportunity to play here and every family will get to see what an amazing community we have here in Thurston County that cares about them,” continues Slaughter.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness says that as of 2014, there were 578,424 people homeless on any given night and of these 216,197 are people in families. Let’s all do our part for those in Thurston County who need our help the most.
Donations to the Family Support Center of South Sound can be made online or by calling their downtown offices at 360-754-9297. Families in need of emergency shelter can reach their hotline at 360-628-7343. They are located on the corner of State and Capital and offices are open from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.