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Spotlight on Allies in Change Awardees: Jamila Larson

On March 28th, DASH will hold its Allies in Change luncheon, honoring individuals who have supported and amplified the organization’s work to provide relief to survivors of domestic and sexual violence,through emergency and long-term safe housing, and innovative homelessness prevention services. We are doing a series of interviews of our awardees beforehand to share a bit more about them. This blog focuses on Jamila Larson, who has brought her work with the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project to DASH’s community. Remember to buy tickets to the luncheon here!

We are pleased to introduce Jamila Larson. Ms. Larson came to D.C. in 1996 from Wisconsin and has been running the Playtime Project as a volunteer since its founding in 2003. She assumed the role as first fulltime Executive Director in September 2009. Her experience as a licensed clinical social worker running a mental health and after school program and as a policy researcher at the Children’s Defense Fund helped inform her leadership of the Playtime Project. “We are fortunate to have the most amazing volunteers and dedicated supporters s who recognize the unlimited potential in the children and families we serve and make a commitment to protecting a child’s right to experience joy.”

Below is the interview we conducted with Ms. Larson. We are grateful to have her as a partner and friend, and are looking forward to honoring her and others March 28th!

Jamila Larson and Lars from Homeless Children's Playtime Project

“My friend from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless told me about this great group of women starting DASH and recommended we consider bringing our Playtime Project model to their new housing program. I jumped at the chance because we know many of the children we serve in family shelters have experienced domestic violence, but to be able to partner with an agency that specializes in this population is something we’d really like to do.

I grew up in rural Wisconsin but moved to DC in 1996 right out of college to work for the Children’s Defense Fund on national policy issues effecting children and families. Discovering how many local needs there are in this city made me passionate to stay and learn about the needs of children and families locally and serve here.

I think there should be a domestic violence fatality review team, similar to child fatality review teams, that analyzes what was done and what was not done by the authorities and service providers in order to fine tune interventions in high risk cases. More police escorts and relocation assistance is needed especially around the time protection orders are filed to ensure families survive dangerous transition times. Education for teen girls and boys in middle school and high school is also critical to help break the cycle as young people are experiencing their first relationships.

We educate our volunteers about the likelihood that many of the families we serve in non-domestic violence shelters have experienced domestic violence, and we work to create a safe environment for all the children we serve. It’s important to give children an environment that gives them therapeutic tools to work through their feelings and experiences (like doll houses, play doh, puppets and art supplies). We want to equip all of the children we serve with coping skills against violence and to make sure they feel safe to relax and express themselves.

Jamila and her newborn

I am a new parent to a darling 5-month-old boy, and it makes me think a lot about how to raise a wonderful man in this world. I read something recently about how respecting children when they tell us “no” helps teach them to respect others who tell them no. This makes a lot of sense to me, to help relatively powerless children find their voice. Check back with me in a year…I will put this consciousness to the test when he starts talking back!”

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District Alliance for Safe Housing | PO Box 91730 Washington, DC 20090
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