Since 1953, the Topeka Rescue Mission has been serving men, women and families struggling with poverty and homelessness. What was originally just a homeless shelter for men has grown into a tremendous organization of support, including everything from a residency program, to youth outreach programs, to human trafficking assistance, and much more.
The Mission’s latest effort focuses on homeless children, viewing the first five years of their lives as critical in their quest to break the cycle of homelessness. One critical component of this new approach involves the power of play.
Topeka Rescue Mission’s Children’s Palace – WIBW-TV 13 Reports
“A lot of these kids don’t get played with,” says Jessica S. Hosman, Director of Children’s Ministries for the Topeka Rescue Mission. “That has a tremendous impact on their brain development and how they interact with others. It causes them to detach from relationships and then, when they become adults, they have a very hard time navigating relationships – personal and professional – which can lead to a lot of failure.”
Therefore, when the Topeka Rescue Mission was planning its new 17,800-square-foot building, just four blocks from the main Mission building, play was a centerpiece. After discovering a PLAYTIME-created soft play area at nearby Westridge Mall, Hosman contacted PLAYTIME to build “Kingdom Discovery Play Room.”
“We asked PLAYTIME to design the room from top to bottom and make it look like the courtyard of a palace,” says Hosman. “There are wall panels around the room so that it looks like you’re in the inner courtyard of a castle. The carpet is themed with streams and paths, and the play elements include a large tree, a tunnel, a butterfly, a log balance beam and a bridge.”
The play area, which is approximately 1,300 square feet, also includes benches for adults and shoe cubbies.
Hosman says the PLAYTIME products match perfectly with the Mission’s goals for the children’s brain development.
“These kids, their physiological makeup is different. The way chemicals are processed in their brains is different. These children tend to get agitated more easily,” she explains. “A lot of children in poverty get diagnosed with ADHD and put on Ritalin when they may just need opportunities for mixed sensory engagement.”
She continues, “In Kingdom Discovery, there is an area where all their needs are met. The play elements are bright, colorful and engaging visually. They can touch everything and play on them, using their gross motor skills and imagination. It hits on a lot of really important needs these children have to experience to break out of the cycle of poverty.”
The name of the Topeka Rescue Mission’s play room matches the theme of the entire facility, which is called “Children’s Palace.” Hosman says that the name is meant to convey the idea that the children are royalty and should be treated as such.
“These children live in chronic stress situations and are not treated like royalty. They are frequently told that they will never amount to anything,” says Hosman. “We believe that God sees these children as royalty and so we built a palace for them to further reinforce that truth.”
The Children’s Palace will open in Fall 2016 and will offer daytime care to homeless children from newborns to kindergarteners. The children may be residents or former residents of the Rescue Mission. Families living at the Mission will be able to receive child care free of charge but, in return, are expected to attend parenting and mentoring programs offered by the Mission.
“Our whole goal is not just to give kids a safe place to learn and grow and play, but to empower parents to be the moms and dads that God calls them to be. We want to help them realize that these children God gave them are precious gifts.”
The facility has 10 classrooms, which are not divided by age as typical daycare centers are, but rather by developmental abilities. The stages of development and classroom transitions include: babies, crawlers, toddlers, trainers and pre-schoolers.
“We’ve been told by the local school district that most kids from the Rescue Mission aren’t ready for school. They often don’t know how to sit at a desk, stand in line, some aren’t even potty trained. We know that if these kids enter kindergarten unprepared, they will be behind… By 10th grade, they have a greater likelihood of dropping out which can then lead to poverty and homelessness. We have seen this cycle repeat generation after generation.
“By creating The Children’s Palace, we can help to break that cycle.”
Hosman adds that working with PLAYTIME was “a great experience.”
“They bent over backwards to get this play area right. It’s obvious that their desire is to give the customer a product that they’ll be happy with. They achieved that goal and the outcome is phenomenal.”