When a child is homeless, finding a safe and cheerful place to stretch and play can be a challenge.
But a local nonprofit called the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project seeks to provide just such places. The organization sees play as a kind of antidote to the trauma that homeless children can experience, and a key to healthy child development.
Playtime volunteers bring a range of fun and therapeutic activities to children living at the D.C. General family shelter, from holiday parties to arts and crafts sessions. And the group’s efforts to offer yoga classes to the kids got a real boost earlier this year when Lyn Vencus came on as a volunteer yoga instructor. When volunteering, Vencus, offers two yoga classes for children aged three to seven, and another for ages eight to eleven.
“My favorite part is making a connection with them beyond words,” said Vencus, who looks forward to the moments when the children seem to “feel it” relaxing and getting into the flow of moving from pose to pose.
Dozens of children show up for the classes. Sometimes up to 40 children will arrive on a given night. Vencus works to help children individually, or work with smaller groups of three to eight children at a time.
“When they fold their hands, bow their heads and say Namaste – they’re really present at that moment.” said Vencus. “I take away more than I give.”
Along with the fun, the children are developing skills and confidence as well as and learning and staying healthy.
“We offer yoga to our children in an effort to help counteract the effects of the stress of homelessness, as well as to encourage physical activity and a healthy lifestyle,” said D.C. General Site Manager Danielle Rothman.
And knowing their children are safe and happy allows the parents a little time to accomplish things they may need to get done as well.
“Part of the purpose of Playtime is to give parents a break, so they usually drop their children off and thus are not present during yoga. However, kids are always eager to talk about yoga when their parents pick them up,” Rothman said.
“I think the children most enjoy having an activity that allows them a space quiet reflection, which can be hard to find in the crowded shelter environment,” Rothman said.
In recognition of that spirit, the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project hosted a fundraiser event on a recent Saturday in Meridian Hill Park, welcoming parents and children to come out and participate in a beginner yoga class.