The fear of street violence in her East Oakland community prevents Maria Peña (left) from taking her children to neighborhood parks and from allowing them to play in front of their home. A supervised playgroup provides that opportunity. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s Note: When it’s too dangerous for children to play outside, what can parents do? Thirty-five-year-old Maria Peña recalls her own childhood in East Oakland as one spent playing happily on the streets with neighborhood children. Today, her community’s high crime rate makes the street a hazardous place for her two kids. As part of our ongoing health series Vital Signs, Peña describes how an East Oakland playgroup called Room to Bloom gives her four-year-old daughter a safe space to be a kid.

By Maria Peña

We were going to leave to a baseball game and something held us back from leaving. It was a drive-by in broad daylight.

My daughter is 4-years-old, and she’s like, “Why are they shooting? Why are these people doing this?”

Sadly we can’t come to the parks here in Oakland. And that’s because they’re full of kids hanging out and either selling drugs or doing drugs or drinking. I’m afraid that someone’s going to drive by and do a drive-by (shooting) at the park.

So now instead of them playing out in the yard, we have to play in the back or find a game to do inside. Or go to another park.

I was looking for a place like this for Samantha to socialize. Because she’s been with adults — and before she goes to kindergarten — I need her to socialize with kids her age.

Honestly, I thought (Room to Bloom was going to be) something negative. I was like, “(It’s) by Castlemont? No, it’s not good. It’s East Oakland. It’s going to be more crime. We’re going to have people out here selling drugs or doing god-knows-what.”

But I said, “You know what, I’m going to give it a try.”

I was amazed. They get to socialize; they get to do artwork. They do story time. Today we had drums, and she gets to play outside which is the best part. There’s not many other options like this.

This (street violence) is a reality. This is where we live. It exists but this is not going to shape you up. Just because you hear this or see this, this is not who we are.

I took a chance to come here, and it was the best choice I’ve made. And I feel that’s healthy because I wasn’t stuck at home afraid.

This story was reported by Ryder Diaz.


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In Oakland, Finding a Safe Place for Kids to Play 7 May,2014Ryder Diaz

  • Nick

    This morning I heard the story “In Oakland, Finding a Safe Place for Kids to Play” and I’ve now just read it. The Room to Bloom program is only mentioned once, maybe twice in the story and no information is given on its location or who runs it. I see here on the website there is a link to Lotus Bloom, which is great. But for the listener there was no info with which to follow up to either support the organization that runs it or to find it to get your kid in it. Without that info, the story is kind of pointless, isn’t it?

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