Tatyana Norris celebrated her seventh birthday at the Park Morton back-to-school event on Wednesday, August 20th. With her face painted like a pink lioness, she hung onto her mother, Davida Tran Norris and they both danced hard and cracked up with laughter when the DJ yelled through the microphone, once or twice every hour, “Happy Birthday to all the Leos! Especially you!”
Children and their parents were smiling and excited, not just about school supplies, but about a sense of community you could feel in the Park Morton Apartments' courtyard through food, music, games, and fellowship.
Each year for the last two decades, the District of Columbia Housing Authority Office of Resident Services (ORS) stuffs and distributes between 500 and 700 back-to-school backpacks to DCHA customers. Housing Opportunities Unlimited (HOU), a DCHA service provider has its own annual back-to-school campaign. Under the guidance of DCHA Executive Director Adrianne Todman, ORS and HOU successfully joined forces at Park Morton for their back-to-school campaigns.
“The event was very informative,” said HOU Case Manager Tanya Phillips-Smith as she handed out backpacks. HOU, a privately-held company which has worked very closely with DCHA in the past through workforce development and job training for clients has three offices in Washington, D.C., one of which has been at Park Morton Apartments since April 2010. The back-to-school event aligned well with HOU's mission. Along with an abundance of pens, paper, and notebooks kids received toothbrushes to emphasize good hygiene. “We encouraged them to change their toothbrushes often and all the children that came received a backpack,” said Phillips-Smith.
More than 70 students between the ages of 4 and 18 registered for the Park Morton event. After their parents signed them in with HOU staff, kids had the chance to color and create at an “arts and crafts” station, get their faces painted, have fun on the dance floor, and take turns exploring the inside of a mobile video game truck.
Other organizations that supported and sponsored the event came out to let clients know what services they offer.
Ms. Debra Bernard, director of the Howard University Center for Urban Progress Neighborhood Networks Program (NNP), chatted with kids that stopped by her table, many of whom seemed to know her well. NNP provides D.C. residents and their children with afterschool opportunities, life skills development, a culinary arts program, and much more.
Abeo Venzor, membership specialist for the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital, comprised of more than 85,000 girl scouts in the D.C. area, was there to “get parents involved, create more visibility [for the Girl Scout Council] and recruit more girl scouts,” said Venzor.
Overall, the Park Morton back-to-school event was “a blast, a huge event, a huge success,” said Ron M. Friday, DCHA family services program assistant. Friday is one of the event’s organizers, who stayed to talk to clients about the DCHA Section-3 program which is designed to offer workforce development and job opportunities to our customers. “We worked together with service providers to give out backpacks and applied for mini-grants through [the Children’s Investment Trust Fund]; residents came out, especially children, the smiles on their faces made it all worthwhile.”