Well before the doors of the NeighborNest opened, Twitter and Compass Family Services (@compasssf) knew families would need to feel welcomed, safe, and supported in order for the space to be a success. In particular, planners of the technology learning center knew childcare would be vitally important. Family-oriented programs like Music & Movement and Family Story Hour, which were already in place for Compass families, were brought over to the new space when the doors opened.
However, it became apparent during the first few months that more activities for kids and families were needed. “Families experiencing homelessness are juggling housing and job search with attending to their family’s emotional and physical well-being. At the end of the day, their children come first. No matter how enticing and vital learning computer skills may be, unless their children’s social-emotional, physical, and educational needs are met, parents can’t attend to their own learning needs,” says Susan Reider, Clinical Director for Compass Family Services. A Family Movie Night is now held monthly, as well as regularly scheduled parenting classes, arts and crafts events, and special guest performances.
Reider states, “The NeighborNest is wonderful in that it has the ability to address family activities and educational classes in one location. Parents are more likely to attend computer classes and learn new skills to improve their ability to compete in the job market, if their children are involved in developmentally appropriate and educationally stimulating activities. When children are well taken care of in a safe, appropriate setting, parents are then free to focus on their own learning.”
For some families whose children have not been to daycare yet, the NeighborNest has served as a valuable introduction for these children to socialize and play with others, as well as experience a sense of independence from their parents, who spend their time taking a class in the next room. Several parents have attributed their child’s successful integration to preschool to time spent at NeighborNest childcare. Lainey Witt, a Compass Childcare Provider based at the NeighborNest says, “Whether the Nest is the first social setting an infant or toddler is experiencing or a place to play and relax after school, it provides a stimulating and safe space for children. Parents are able to focus on their tasks and on themselves knowing that their children are having fun and being cared for.”
Repeat visits to the NeighborNest are increasing for both tech and non-tech activities. Parents are participating in multiple classes now, and spreading the word to other Compass families to visit and participate. Surveys over the first year found families feel like they are a part of a meaningful community and they value the educational programs for kids.
Compass case managers play a key role in encouraging parents to participate in all of the fun and educational offerings at the NeighborNest, often walking clients over to the space themselves to introduce them to the staff and Twitter volunteers. According to Amy Yamashita, a Compass Case Manager based out of the NeighborNest, “The NeighborNest is unique because it’s a multi-purpose space. It’s a place families can come to work in peace, to get help, to socialize, and to connect. I think that most families who walk through the door at the NeighborNest are happy to be here, and that’s reflected in the overall vibe and atmosphere of the space.”
The NeighborNest has quickly evolved into not just a tech center, but also an informal setting for our families to hang out, where positive connections have been fostered among parents, staff members of different organizations, and Twitter volunteers. Over time, people have become more comfortable with personal interactions, whether it’s a parent overcoming shyness to start speaking up and asking questions during housing workshops, or a Twitter volunteer chatting with another guest while helping a youngster reach for a granola bar from the snack shelf. Regardless of the setting, the caring ways people interact have been apparent from the start. According to Lucho, a regular visitor to the NeighborNest: “You go there and they’re watching your kids. It’s not in their job description, but they’re actually holding babies while the parents are on the computer. It shows a real human side.”
It’s a nest, after all. And nests are built with love and for strength.