It’s always play time at Karuna Kids’ Play Space
After four years working as a technical support representative on Wall Street, Jessica Trujillo got the word she was being laid off. It was 2013 and Trujillo’s employer, Thomson Reuters, had just undergone a merger.
The Hunts Point native had just given birth to her second son, and although the job had paid well, she was grateful to have more time to spend with her children.
“After work, I had barely any energy left for my kids, so I said to myself ‘What am I doing?’” she recalled of her days on Wall Street.
Now, Trujillo says, she has found her true calling as an educator for children right near home. She now oversees the Family School Skills program, part of the Hunts Point Children’s Alliance’s Early Childhood initiative, which is headquartered in a space known as the Karuna Kids’ Space Place, on 889 Hunts Point Ave. The Alliance brought Trujillo on two years ago to direct the program after she had taught at a local school, in the Americorps program.
The free, eight-week classes are open to children from newborns to eight-year-olds, and are held two days per week in the fall, spring and summer. The program was designed to address the educational and parenting needs of local families. Parents learn skills for improving their relationships with their children, said teacher, Reina Garcia.
Each session, up to ten families at a time can enroll in the program.
“What we really want our parents to do is leave understanding their child, leave learning how to communicate with their child,” she said. “If the child’s not happy, if mommy’s not happy then everything falls by the wayside.”
Trujillo said that having been raised in the neighborhood by a single mother helps her relate to local parents and understand the pressures they face—pressures that are depressingly familiar in low-income neighborhoods, such as eviction from their homes, unemployment and health problems like asthma.
“All of the challenges that parents face, I’ve seen growing up in Hunts Point,” she said. “I’ve been there and done that.”
Parents and children participate in board games and other activities that teach effective communication for adults and proper behavior for children, Trujillo said.
Immigrant families that participate in the program often struggle with English, she said, adding that classes are given in Spanish and English. For families that speak other languages, such as Chinese and Swahili, staff uses books and other materials to communicate.
”It’s about having open doors and open arms,” said Garcia.