Washingtonian magazine honored Jamila Larson SP'95 in January as one of 10 "Washingtonians of the Year."
For Love or Money
Alumna Jamila Larson SP'95 named Washingtonian
of the Year for work with homeless children.
By Deb Olsen Jacobe SP'82
Washingtonian magazine honored Jamila Larson SP'95 in January as one of 10 "Washingtonians of the Year." Larson, a licensed clinical social worker, is co-founder and executive director of the Homeless Children's Playtime Project in Washington, D.C.
When did your concern for homeless children begin?
I started a campus organization at St. Kate's in 1994 called "Women Helping Women," where we played with children at St. Anne's Place in North Minneapolis every Sunday. This experience taught me how an individual could make a difference and, as part of a collective effort, an even bigger difference.
I wanted to move to our nation's capital to effect change on a bigger scale, so right after I graduated in 1995, I hopped on a Greyhound bus for an internship at the Children's Defense Fund.
What did you find when you got to Washington?
I discovered that there were children living at a huge homeless shelter just a couple of blocks from where I worked, and when I took a tour, I saw not a single toy in sight. When I asked if anyone ever donated any toys, the response was, "Yes, from time to time, but we keep them locked in a closet so the kids don't make a mess."
That's when I realized that the simple idea I had in college was still relevant throughout our nation's capital, where shelters have struggled to keep up with the demographic shift to family homelessness. I have been running the Homeless Children's Playtime Project, mostly as a volunteer, for nearly 10 years and am fortunate now to get paid for what I love to do.
How has your program grown?
Our 150 volunteers now run 11 weekly programs in five different shelters designed to help children learn and heal through play. We are committed to nurturing healthy child development and reducing the effects of trauma among the 800 children we serve each year, babies through teens.
What was your reaction to being named a Washingtonian of the Year?
I was surprised! I felt honored, humbled and somewhat uncomfortable, knowing that one person can never do anything alone. I have a whole legion of committed, hard-working, dedicated volunteers and staff that make happen what we do every day.
What advice would you give Katies who have a vision?
Stay steadfast to your commitment, and don't let anything stand in your way. You don't need a dime to get started on doing what needs to be done. When I couldn't find a job that would allow me to do what I wanted to do, I did the work anyway, not knowing whether it would lead to a job someday. Do what needs to be done and the people who share your vision will help make it happen!