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At any given time, there are approximately 140-150 children living at Haven for Hope, a complex of resources and residences for homeless people in San Antonio’s near Westside.
While the YMCA of Greater San Antonio has an on-site facility that provides child care and after school programming, its small patio playground was filling to capacity with kids from Haven, surrounding housing projects and the surrounding neighborhood.
YMCA and Haven officials gathered at the outside basketball courts on Monday to celebrate the newest addition to the Harvey Najim Recreation Activity Center: three small play structures tailored to toddlers and older children up to around 12 years old.
“It’s our job to take care of these little ones,” said Harvey Najim, whose foundation donated $100,000 for the new playscape, located within the gated center that includes basketball courts, a picnic area, and handball courts. The Najim Family Foundation has given $2.4 million to Haven since 2007.
Jaquarius Day, 11, lives at the Transformational Campus, Haven’s temporary housing complex, with his family that includes four brothers and one sister. He shyly thanked Najim with a hug before a ceremonial ribbon was cut.
After the brief ceremony, Jaquarius and other children immediately took to the brightly-colored equipment. Monday is slated to be yet another one of those perfectly warm winter days in San Antonio and it also happens to be President’s Day, so there are more kids on Haven’s campus than usual.
Laura Calderon, director of external relations for Haven, said all neighborhood children are welcome to use the facilities, but a Haven staff member or volunteer has to be present to open the secure fence and young children must be supervised by an adult.
“A lot these kids are here as a result of domestic violence,” Calderon said. “So it’s important to have a secure place for them to play.”
Neither Eduardo Garcia Park, a long grassy area right next to Interstate 10 access road, nor Columbus Park, across Interstate 35/10 have playground equipment and their proximity to high-speed traffic makes them a bad place for children to play. Though they are within walking distance of Haven, the area is one of the least walkable parts of the city with narrow sidewalks – if any, highway traffic, and vagrants dominating the landscape.
“They’re not looking over their shoulders,” said Haven Vice President of Development Sara Pfeifer as she watched the children play. That was the “true goal” of the playscape.
The recreation center is directly across the street from the YMCA’s facility and adjacent to the Terraces at Haven for Hope. The 140-unit housing complex is mostly rented by out-going “graduates” of Haven’s residential program, but units are open to anyone that meets income requirements. YMCA’s programming is roughly comprised of about 60% young Haven residents, the remaining come from the Terraces and surrounding neighborhood.
According to officials, about 2,600 people have left Haven’s shelter to find permanent housing.
Najim is also the vice chairman for Haven’s board of directors and is currently overseeing Haven’s fiscal and information technology matters while the center looks to replace Mark Carmona, who resigned as CEO in December 2015.
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