A place to run free under tall oaks, grow vegetables and play in a house with a roof made of plants — a back yard.
That's the plan for the formerly homeless kids who now live at a MiraclePlace. The 52-apartment expansion opened in August at Metropolitan Ministries for families to stay for up to a year.
These kids can look out their bedroom windows in their upstairs apartments to the back yard, completed last month.
There's a sand and water table to feel different textures, and a molded log for balancing. A playground in nature colors nestled in mulch was installed by local volunteers and national nonprofit KaBOOM! There are garden beds built into benches and rain barrels with spouts that children can tap to fill watering cans and tend edible gardens.
The nature theme was embraced as a result of research. The youngest residents at Metropolitan Ministries are arguably some of the most vulnerable in society.
"When you lose your home, you're at the bottom of the bottom," said Jamie Meyer, senior director of education programs at the ministries.
Metropolitan Ministries adopted the sanctuary model recently to address trauma because homelessness is often tied to other problems for families, such as domestic violence, abuse, mental illness and unemployment.
Meyer often hears a child say they've never been to the beach or a nice restaurant.
Some, at the age of just 5, have to take on responsibilities of caring for siblings.
These children get by in a fight-or-flight survival mode. Their brains are not always mature enough to hit critical developmental milestones. They may have a difficult time bonding with parents and may act out.
"It can have lifelong effects," said Meyer, who has worked at the shelter for 15 years. "The good news is intervention can mitigate those effects."
One effective tool is to incorporate the restorative powers of nature.
Just being in nature and tending to plants as they grow can help, Meyer said.
In the old shelter, which is being renovated for shorter stays, the play space was a small courtyard open limited hours.
Now, kids are allowed to come out to play in the back yard anytime, where they get to be a kid.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3431.