On a recent Friday evening, eight pairs of parents and babies gathered at Franklin Avenue storefront. The parents chatted or read to their children while other tots played with blocks, checked each other out or raced around the padded floor.
They weren’t at a child-friendly coffee shop, toy store or library. Rather, they were at a parent-run community play space, where every member has a key and can come and go as they please.
It Takes a Village opened its doors at LaunchPad, 721 Franklin Ave. between Park and Sterling places last week as a space for parents of similarly aged children to gather for impromptu play dates and mutual support.
A membership fee of $35 a month allows anyone with a child 4 years or younger to use the space seven days a week between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. as a "home away from home ... a clubhouse for local families" as the website describes it.
So far more than 60 families have signed up and the group will likely cap the membership at 100 families to prevent overcrowding.
While the cheery storefront has a plethora of toys, a small kitchen and cubbies where parents can leave extra diapers, toys and wipes, parents would probably join even if it were just a floor and four bare walls, just to have a place to get out of the house and see people.
“There have been moments when we just need a change of scenery. It’s nice to be able to come in here and see other mothers—to know that somebody is in the same boat” said board member Patricia Hurley-Carpenter, who has a 12-month-old.
Story times and sing-alongs at local libraries and coffee shops are great, several members said, but the times don’t necessarily fit in with their children’s nap schedule. Plus even the closest events, at Dean Street or the Central Library, are bit of a trek, especially in winter.
In addition to open play space, It Takes a Village also holds pay-what-you can classes for kids and parents seven days a week and members can use the space for birthday parties. (But even when other events are going on, members can still come in and use the space.)
“We were all very excited about the idea of having something closer to home, because we had been walking over to Park Slope,” Hurley-Carpenter said.
LaKeisha Jacobs, who lives across the street, said she was relieved when she heard the membership fee.
"We were hearing this is going to happen, and we were like how much is going to be? Thirty-five dollars? It’s not prohibitive. It also means there will be different kids of families here so this price is not a bar to people," she said.
She promply signed up and has been at the space every day since with her daughter.
“She has all that space to crawl around and I get to hang out with all the other moms and talk so it’s been really good,” she said.
Nicola Usher, also a board member, said she’s particularly appreciated the space, during the witching hour between afternoon nap and dinner.
“That’s when I go a little stir crazy,” she said. “This is just a very comfortable place to go.”
The project is the brainchild of Little Zelda owner Michael De Zayas, who came up with the idea after approaching LaunchPad founder Michael Kunitzky about using the space for a new business venture (no details forthcoming yet).
Kunitzky began looking to rent the space over the summer, after LaunchPad moved their Brooklyn Yoga Collective project down the street to allow for more classes.
But he wanted to rent to a nonprofit. So de Zayas decided to start one.
“I really thought hard about what this neighborhood needed,” said de Zayas, who lives around the corner with wife, Kate Blumm, and 15-month-old daughter, Zelda.
To him, the answer was clear.
“What if it was just this parent-shared community nonprofit where everyone had a key and it was a space for everyone,” said de Zayas.
Kunitzky offered to rent the space to de Zayas at a subsidized rate while continuing to use the space for LaunchPad's other community programs at night.
Three weeks later, on Nov. 5, It Takes a Village opened.
Those who know de Zayas will not be surprised at the speedy timeframe.
The 38-year-old former travel writer is an entrepreneur by nature with a "lets make it happen" mindset. Besides Little Zelda, de Zayas started the custom sweatshirt company Neighborhoodies.
“I have a talent for starting businesses, but I also have a personal philosophy that you should use your talents not (primarily) to make money. So I thought I would alternate for profit and nonprofit ventures,” he said.
While cooperative preschools abound in Brooklyn, this is the only nonprofit parent-run play space that de Zayas knows of.
But that will likely change soon. De Zayas has already received inquires from parents in Ditmas Park and the South Slope about starting their own community play space, and De Zayas intends to help groups start them all over Brooklyn.
“I really feel like I’ve hit on a mission for myself,” he said.