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Emily’s Story

Ryan Hazelton, Senior Philanthropy Officer
December 8, 2016

Racing down Waller Street as fast as she could with her little 2-year-old legs, Emily abruptly stopped in front of the fire house and pointed towards the doorbell. She knew where she was headed, and she wanted to get to the Playroom as quickly as possible. Her mother, Denise, finally caught up and lifted Emily to push the bell.

As they entered the Prevention Center together, Courtney greeted them with a smile and a familiar hello. Denise and Emily visit the Prevention Center three days a week, usually for a few hours each day. While Denise participates in a host of services, such as crisis support, therapy, and parenting classes, Emily spends her time in our Therapeutic Playroom.

Emily and her family have been leaning on the Prevention Center for several months. Denise, a single mother of four, ages 2-14, is a victim of domestic violence – while the entire family suffers from racial prejudice in the community.

When Emily first came to the Prevention Center, it was clear that she was affected by living in an environment with such adversity. Routinely, Emily snatched and stole toys from other children, rather than asking to share — causing children to avoid her in the Playroom. However, a few weeks ago, our Playroom’s Therapeutic Caregivers saw in Emily a glimmer of light, a signal of hope in a single, small act…

To support Emily in developing positive behavior and building friendships, our Therapeutic Caregivers quickly started practicing a technique they call the “Do-Over.” The technique is as it sounds — a chance to reenact a situation with pointed changes to improve the outcome.

Just the other day, our Playroom Coordinator, Russell Stephens, glanced over to a table where Emily was sitting with another child. He watched as Emily reached over to pluck the Play-doh from the hands of the other girl, but then something happened. She stopped, looked at the girl, and gently asked, “Can I have that, please?” The girl joyfully shared, and a huge smile spread across Emily’s face. She was so happy to get what she wanted, and so proud of herself — SHE DID IT! All those “Do-Over’s” paid off!

We all have small moments in life that lead to big change in our futures, and Emily’s moment came through the steadfast dedication of our Playroom Caregivers. Our Playroom is an important space, which provides:

  • More than 400 children each year with social and emotional skills, and free time for parents to utilize our programs
  • An average of 3,000 visits a year with our caring and engaging caregivers.
  • A healthy space to host our free Tuesday Night Dinners, which provided 1,388 meals to families in 2015 to build connections

Emily’s small interaction at the table reminds us all of the power of a moment, of an action. This may seem like a small success compared to all the challenges her family faces, but it’s more than just a simple behavior change. Exposure to violence during childhood can have long lasting effects including difficulties in school, an increased likelihood of falling into the criminal justice system, as well as, serious mental and physical health issues. For Emily and our staff alike, this is not only a huge success, it is a change in the trajectory of her future, and a disruption in the vicious cycle of violence.

Our work at the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center is filled with big and small moments that lead to impactful change. I hope you will consider making a gift to support this crucial work, and cherish all of the small moments that not only make up your holiday season, but each day of the year. Your support allows us to change the trajectory for vulnerable children, including Emily, her three siblings, and her mother, all year long.


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