How can Project Innovations LA (PILA)’s mission to increase community resilience and Union Rescue Mission (URM)’s mission to provide a safe shelter for families experiencing homelessness amplify each other? `
One answer of perhaps many is through play.
In Augusts 2022, PILA attended its first town hall at URM to inform parents with children ages birth through five about the ‘Play&Learn’ playgroups that PILA’s Child Development Specialists will host at URM every other week. These groups will be implementing the PlayStrong* approach, to encourage parents to use intentional play that builds upon relationship, regulation, and resilience enhancement. To date, nine different families and 13 children have attended the Play&Learn playgroups!
*PlayStrong is a research-backed framework for maximizing play to strengthen children’s developing brain and mind. It is designed by experts to especially build strong relationships, emotional regulation, and resilience to face adversity.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of this partnership with URM has been seeing URM’s families seeking further support,” says Cindy Batres, PILA’s Child Development Specialist and Senior Community Ambassador, who is spearheading this initiative with URM. “It is wonderful to see these playgroup sessions become a gateway for further resources and linkages,” Cindy continued. “Being able to direct them to PLN’s mental health services or licensed child specialists who can support them with any developmental concerns they may have about their children is exactly why we are here – to help families get stronger.”
Both adults and children are empowered by the playgroups. For the adults, these sessions give them an opportunity to seek additional support and resources, understand atypical and typical child development, learn how to navigate their children’s emotional or behavioral outbursts, and gain insight into the Community Resiliency Model** (CRM)® skills. Additionally, parents can socialize with other adults in a safe and fun environment and slow down to focus on the small joys of life.
PILA’s specialists observed that adults can “become children again”, recalling how a mother shared with the team, “I was able to play, [which is] something I didn’t get a chance to really do in my country of origin. This made me happy and able to understand why my daughter wants to play, why I should make time for her, and how I can help with modeling behavior through her play. I hadn’t used a puzzle before; it’s fun and helps thinking.” One of the most compelling benefits of play is how it reduces parental stress as well, when used as an outlet to release their “inner child” and shift from distress to well-being.
** CRM’s goal is to help to create “trauma-informed” and “resiliency-focused” communities that share a common understanding of the impact of trauma and chronic stress on the nervous system and how resiliency can be restored or increased using this skills-based approach. Workshops introduces the six wellness skills of CRM designed to help adults and children learn to track their own nervous systems in order to bring the body, mind and spirit back into greater balance, and to encourage people to pass the skills along to family, friends and their wider community.
For the children, play sessions encourage cognitive improvement, further connection with their caregivers, social-emotional development, free exploration in a safe space, awareness of their own emotions and interaction with other children. Children thrive in their development when having at least one dependable adult. By offering caregivers more opportunities to strengthen their bond, model emotional regulation through attentiveness and empathy, bolster secure attachment, reduce stress for themselves and their children, and enhance resiliency against anxiety and trauma. Play helps children grow emotionally.
Furthermore, it is scientifically well documented that play and learning are especially intertwined from birth to age three. Playing fosters healthy brain development by encouraging developmental milestones in literacy and vocabulary, social-emotional skills (learning how to play with others, emotional regulation, etc.), gross and fine motor skills such as balance and grasping, and problem solving skills. What is key to harnessing the many benefits of play lies not within the quantity of playtime but within its approach and quality. This is where PILA’s child development specialists who guide the play sessions at URM come in. They offer the tools to maximize play’s benefits for both the parents and their young children.
PILA and URM will continue their collaboration until June 2023, with the possibility of an extension. In the coming new year, there will be a total of 12 sessions on the following dates: 1/19, 2/2, 2/16, 3/2, 3/16, 3/30, 4/13, 4/27, 5/11, 5/25, 6/8, and 6/22. Beginning in 2023, playgroups will also be held bilingually (English and Spanish) but people of all languages are welcomed. Sessions last 1.5 hours and PILA’s goal is to serve more URM families and enhance their social connections to one another.
To sign up for a playgroup –whether you live at URM or elsewhere – or for more information, contact Cindy Batres directly by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling her at 323-484-3804.