Two little girls explore a play structure in front of a house, tucked into a residential neighborhood in Hayward. One, on the edge of starting preschool, loves to chit chat and engage in pretend play, and she revels in climbing. Her little sister wobbles a little unsteadily behind her, sometimes plopping down onto the rubberized tree bark surface before pulling herself back up for another try.
They may just look like a pair of sisters playing in front of their house, but ask Sarah Voit – Director of Programs for FESCO (Family Emergency Shelter Coalition) – and she’ll tell you it means a lot more than meets the eye. “This is their space, and we know how important play is in the development of children,” says Sarah, adding that it supports “socialization skills, and learning how to share and take turns, practice gross motor skills and fine motor skills.”
Earlier this summer, Habitat’s Home Preservation team installed this playscape for FESCO at their Les Marquis House. What the girls are playing in front of is actually a 25-bed emergency shelter for families experiencing homelessness – a unique shelter in the area, working to prevent the separation that happens to so many other unhoused families, compounding the trauma of their situation. “FESCO’s mission,” Sarah says, “is to keep families together in their homelessness and move them towards self-sufficiency and to find a permanent place to call home.”
FESCO has connected with Habitat’s Home Preservation Program over the years through the City of Hayward, when we worked to ensure that Les Marquis House (built in 1910) remained healthy and beautiful. However, this project was something particularly special, an entirely different structure from the one we had been repairing and painting – the little one outside.
The previous equipment, Sarah said, “was this very old play structure that looked like it was ready to blow over the fence… We wanted a safe place for the kids to play.”
As we watched the girls giggle and hide and climb and pretend – and their mother sit on a bench nearby – it was clear that the new play area was more than a sturdy, durable space for social and motor development.
“It feels like a space of their own where they can just be kids and laugh and have fun,” Sarah says. “A lot of the families that we work with – some of them, they only come in with the clothes on their backs. They don’t have anything that’s their own. So, when families come in, we like to say, you know, this is your space… and then the parents can come up here and chat, watch their children, and just have fun and just forget about the stress for a while.”
While a playground is out of the ordinary for our Home Preservation Program – which spends much of its time re-roofing homes, installing grab bars and walk-in showers, repairing loose floorboards, re-piping houses, and the like – it has been wonderful to contribute in this fresh way to FESCO’s work, the Hayward community and, of course, to these children and families working hard toward stable housing.
“Although our core Home Preservation work is around maintaining and repairing affordable owner-occupied homes, we are also very mindful of the broader communities in which we serve,” says Laura Salcido, Resource Development Manager for Habitat’s Home Preservation team. “I’m so gratified to know that we could put our skills to work in a way that improves quality of life for these families in a real sense and, by extension, strengthens the entire community.”