Women’s Development Center has eyes on ‘play area’

Children at the north central Las Vegas apartment complex rely on colored chalk and vivid imaginations to justify 350 square feet of asphalt as a "play area." All the while, their mothers keep the kind of watch only eyes that have seen ugly things tend to keep.

Until now, that has been the only consideration regarding this play space at the Women’s Development Center complex – that the mothers can see their children.

Thanks to the Young Constructor’s Forum committee of the Associated General Contractors of Las Vegas, the issue now is "slide or no slide?" Consisting of several representatives from contractors across the city, the committee occasionally picks up charitable projects. The latest one is the play area. Considering whom it will benefit and where it will go, however, it’s more of a haven.

The Women’s Development Center is a nonprofit organization that helps homeless parents find a fresh start, but many of its members are women who have fled abusive situations. According to Tina Prieto, executive director at the center, clients have ranged from the woman whose boyfriend beat her blind, to the mother left with nothing after her husband hit the jackpot and shacked up with a cocktail waitress.

Among the center’s services, it provides furnished housing units in two-year increments. During that time, staff and volunteers teach clients necessary life skills to transition them to independence.

Men and couples are also clients. The real prerequisite here is homelessness, which is why a play area is nothing short of a luxury.

As of last week, the Young Constructor’s Forum committee raised the $7,000 necessary for the essentials. That consists of a rubber surface for safety, canopy for shade and play panels for, well, fun. The panels will feature things the kids can jump, swing and climb on.

But the committee is hoping to raise even more money to upgrade equipment, maybe throw in something kids can slide on, too. If it generates a real surplus, funds will spill into the efforts of the center.

Organizers are using the same Crowdtilt campaign (https://reddit.crowdtilt.com/campaigns/a-place-to-play) with which they started. The fundraising website allows people all over the world to contribute to a cause with just a few clicks.

But there’s a catch: The campaign expires Friday. Nathan Cartwright, for one, is hoping generosity procrastinates.

The business development manager at Great Salt Lake Electric has been involved in all aspects of the campaign, including producing a video to support the cause.

Upon joining the project, Cartwright recognized the needs of the children. When he heard someone in his office was a product of the center’s efforts, however, his compassion turned to passion.

"I had a feeling this was something I needed to do," he says. "But when (his co-worker) talked to me about it, I knew why I was doing it. Lives are being touched."

Cubalah Zaragoza is the head purchasing agent at Great Salt Lake Electric. She owns a home with her husband of 18 years and has three kids – two of whom are college-bound. It’s a long way from the days when she worked at Jack in the Box, and further still from the day she and her husband pawned their wedding rings to pay the bills.

The couple was evicted in 1998. She credits the center for getting them back on their feet with a $290-a-month two-bedroom condo. It didn’t have a playground, but they felt too blessed to notice.

"When you’re struggling, you don’t have time to worry about lifetime goals" much less a play area, she says. "You’re too busy worrying about getting kicked out."

It’s something the parents and children who occupy the center housing units know quite well. The daily reminders of their less-fortunate status come in bulk this time of year.

A play area is but one way to take the kids’ minds off what they don’t have. But it’s also a way to fill the watchful eyes that look over them with a little joy.

Contact Xazmin Garza at xgarza@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.

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