The ACTS family shelter in Philadelphia recently inaugurated a vibrant new space where children who are experiencing homelessness can learn and have fun. Called “Multiple Spaces,” it was created as part of the Clinton Foundation’s “Too Small to Fail initiative,” in partnership with the Office of Homeless Services (OHS) and with funding from the William Penn Foundation.
Adjacent to a dining hall and installed within the limits of an auditorium stage, Multiple Spaces is a carefree, childhood oasis. A big blue rug marks its middle, and stickers sprinkle the walls. It contains plush beanbag chairs, low couches, and pillows shaped like lemon tree leaves. Shelves are bursting with books and building blocks. The installation may look simple, but it’s part of a much bigger vision.
Too Small to Fail champions the idea that opportunities to talk, read, and sing with young children prepare them for success in kindergarten and beyond. It also strives to meet parents where they are – even if it’s in a homeless shelter.
The initiative gives parents high-quality early learning resources in places you might not expect. Reading and play spaces have been opened in laundromats, pediatric clinics, and family courts. Multiple Spaces, which opened at ACTS in late February, is yet another example of this forward-thinking approach.
For Jennean Gantt-Weeks, ACTS’s Executive Director, the project is a welcome addition to her family shelter. When families arrive at ACTS, the intake process can take time. Parents are stressed and kids may be disoriented. Multiple Spaces allows ACTS to offer them something beyond emergency housing. “It’s a kid-friendly environment that is open for learning and play” she beamed. “I hope the children will enjoy this space as part of their stay in the shelter.”
“It is essential that we do whatever we can to mitigate the effects homelessness has on children as much as possible,” said Keisha Moore-Johnson, the Emergency and Temporary Housing Administrator for OHS. “A safe, interactive space where children and parents can develop reading skills and learn through play is critical to early brain development. Providing this space will hopefully foster a love for reading and positively impact the family,” she explained.
Too Small to Fail wants children to interact with language-rich tools as soon as they are born, building a foundation for life-long learning. But from the perspective of the kids, the reward is immediate.
“After assembling the spaces, I love seeing the kids come into it for the first time. Everything is new and shiny and there is that moment of hesitation when the kids are unsure if it’s okay to touch anything,” said Lanica Angpak, Philadelphia Community Manager for Too Small to Fail. “But it only takes one kid, and then it’s like the floodgates open! That is my favorite part… when they realize all the stuff is for them, and it’s instant joy.”
Main picture: Strong partnerships were essential in creating the “Multiple Spaces” learning and play area. (Left to right) Lanica Angpak, Philadelphia Community Manager for Too Small to Fail; Keisha Moore-Johnson, the Emergency and Temporary Housing Administrator for OHS; and Jennean Gantt-Weeks, ACTS’s Executive Director at the unveiling in February 2023.