Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator at the Catalogue for Philanthropy
A minimum-wage worker in Arlington would have to work 154 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment. But even if a particularly industrious individual could manage only sleeping 45 minutes every night while balancing their 3.85 full-time jobs, imagine that they also have 3 children to take care of. Well, to afford a two-bedroom apartment, they’ll need to up their weekly hours to 177.
A week only has 168 hours.
Unless scientists start making some real progress on time machines, this situation is currently unsustainable for low-income families. That’s what drives the work of Catalogue nonprofit partner Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH). This organization develops and provides affordable, high-quality rental apartments for Arlingtonians making less than 60% of the average median income.
Living in an APAH apartment entails more than just a roof over your head. APAH staff provide holistic support by building invaluable connections between residents and resources. They partner with nonprofit and for-profit organizations around Arlington County to give residents access to services ranging from supplemental food assistance to coding classes for kids. These buildings aren’t just a collection of homes — they’re communities. All residents have access to APAH-led programs held in community gathering spaces.
One of these programs is APAH’s Story Hour program for children ages 0-7. During this hour-long program, children gain literacy and social skills through books, toys, and play. It is an opportunity as well for their parents to socialize with others and gain exposure to language skills alongside their children. When APAH staff invited me to volunteer for their Story Hour, I was thrilled.
That afternoon, I arrived at Columbia Hills, one of APAH’s 17 rental communities. Story Hour takes place in a multipurpose room every Wednesday. Throughout the month, various volunteer-groups make Story Time a possibility, including a local synagogue, church, and even a construction company. This Wednesday, I was joined by 3 regular volunteers who all share a genuine love of children and making silly faces while reading books.
We laid out big blue foam puzzle pieces on the floor (what a flood of nostalgia!) and soon welcomed our visitors. We ended up being joined by three mothers and eight children for Story Hour. We began song-time with a couple of the classics: head, shoulders, knees, and toes; wheels on the bus; and the itsy bitsy spider. Then it was time for story-time, when the volunteers took turns reading aloud to the children. I started off with Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown. It involved a lot of wild-tiger ROARING.
During other volunteers’ stories, I sat on the puzzle mat, encouraging the kids to stay engaged with the book. One girl found it more interesting to try and braid my hair instead. We periodically broke up book reading with “wiggles” to get the energy out. (Million Dollar Idea: instituting regular wiggle breaks in workplace offices to stimulate productivity.)
Then, we spread out for solo reading time, when kids got to pick out their own books. While I read to her, the girl I had partnered with got distracted by my camera hanging around my neck. I allowed her to take a few photos. Predictably, the situation devolved when other kids inevitably noticed the shiny gadget and also wanted to take turns pushing the button. Whoops. An APAH staff member helped redirect attention since this was supposed to be literacy-improvement-time and not play-with-selfies-time.
For our final activity, we brought out the toy chest! Children spread out with educational toys and puzzles.
When Story Hour was over, the children helped us put away the toys and puzzles, and we waved goodbye as the families went home. How convenient that home is just an elevator ride up! Reading and playing with charming, happy children sure does make an hour fly by. It hardly felt like “work” at all, especially when supported by APAH’s team and volunteers. What a joy to meet such genuine people!
This program is a fantastic, completely free resource for residents — and it’s made possible through volunteers. APAH hopes that with a larger base of reliable volunteers, they will be able to expand Story Hour to additional times and locations. Because of space limitations, each Story Hour is capped at 12 children. But at Columbia Hills there are 499 residents, 99 of whom are children younger than 8 — that’s 20% of the entire building! Clearly the need is there. It’s just a matter of finding enough volunteers to sustain program growth.
So, if you love children and live in Arlington, then please consider volunteering with APAH. In addition to more Story Hour volunteers, they are also looking for volunteers to help kids work on their homework and read aloud to kids ages 5-12. Spanish speakers are especially needed! If interested, you can learn more and sign up on their volunteer page or shoot an email to their Volunteer Program Coordinator Julie Booth at firstname.lastname@example.org.