Community Playdates

What if all children have opportunities to PLAY that focuses on social, physical, emotional, cognitive and behavior development?

Photo of Cyndi Nguyen
13 16

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

As a parent, it is disturbing to see when children are not allowed to be children. The culture in New Orleans is that children need to walk in a straight line at all time, they cannot get dirty while learning and if they did, they did not learn anything and they need to be quiet all the time. I witnessed too many early childhood programs like this. Social skills should not be viewed as secondary compared to academic skills. Well shaped social skill is very important to help children coping with new environment, facing new challenges, respecting authorities and building social relationships. The community that I live and work is a diverse community of approximately 45% Vietnamese-American, 45% African-American, 5% Hispanic and 5% Mixed ethnicity. It is a rich cultural working class neighborhood that residents help each other out as needed but feel abandon by the city of its lack of improvement and investment. A community where people of different ethnicity got along well with each other even though at times we don’t understand each other. It is a community that turned on the light after Hurricane Katrina. A community of people who just want to be treated equality. A community that want their children to have access to resource and be given an opportunity to exceed in life. I am inspired because of the community's resiliency, faces of young children who feel left out of their own community and hard working parents who just want their child to have a head start in l

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani)

If you chose to self-identify your race, ethnicity, or origin, please share here: (the answer will not be public)



Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Louisiana

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

New Orleans

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Louisiana

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

New Orleans, Louisiana

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Access to child care, particularly high quality child care, remains out of reach for many families in the Village de L’est neighborhood. Many families cannot pay the full cost of quality care, and the ongoing commitment from public and private contributions is seldom guaranteed. The Village de L’est neighborhood has a population of approximately 7,500 residents, of which, over 600 children are under the age of 5-year-old. The target population reflects approximately 45% Vietnamese-American, 45% African-American, 5% Hispanic and 5% Mixed ethnicity. There is only one private child development center that serves up to 100 children under the age of 5-year-old and a Pre-K program that has approximately 80 slots, leaving 70% of children under the age of five-year-old without access to early childhood education that will result them not to be ready for kindergarten and face academic delays.

We believe that learning does not have to take place in a structured environment, however, learning can take place anywhere in the community with trained and nurturing early childhood professionals.  With the current state of the early childhood educational system in Louisiana, Community Playdates is a cost effective solution that has all the ingredients to prepared children under the age of 5 year old for kindergarten.

Community Playdates aims to provide a safe and happy environment where all children can play, learn, develop and fulfil their potential. Our focus is to meet the needs of each child by working with parents and caregivers and recognizing that all children are unique. Community Playdate's environment is planned to enhance the development and education of children through safe and stimulating equipment and activities and to give an opportunity for all children to learn through example, experience and play, preparing them for life at school and the future.

One of the most promising aspects of Community Playdates is that it will create opportunities for children from different neighborhoods, economic & social background, ethnicities to come together for a playdate.  Community Playdate does not discriminate you based on your income, ethnicity and gender and/or religion, playdates embrace every child under the age of 5-year-old who wants to play, explore and learn.

Another promising aspect of Community Playdates is that it gives the community the ownership that it takes a village to raise a child.  It gives the child a sense that she/he belongs in this community because he/she is surrounded by adults who live in the community. 

Community Playdates will allow the child to identify him/herself through play development activities as well as through interaction with other children. Community Playdates encourage children to explore what they hear, how they feel and what they touch.  It is an environment that will focuses on the child's social, mental, language, physical and cognitive development.

The most innovative about Community Playdates is that it is mobile where it can go anywhere in the community.  Learning can take place anywhere in the community, in the church, community center, banks, playground, library, recreational center and etc. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Start-Up (a pilot that has just started operating)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

When a child engages in Community Playdates, he/she is able to play and develop one's social, physical, mental, language and cognitive development. The child is freely flowing in safe space that support his/her development. The child is able to be a kid and explore all of the possibilities of play. The child feels that he/she belongs in the space. When a parent engages in Community Playdates, the parent will learn from other parents through peer support. The parent will learn how to work with his/her child at home. The parent will feel part of the child's development. Parents will not freak if the child messes up or does not follow instruction. The parent will feel part of the community.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

The impact of our work last year is that we discovered Community Playdates through shared collaborative e-journey experiences. A "breakthrough" moment that learning takes place everywhere. The moment brought us back to our community and that we need to own Community Playdates. The projected future impact of Community Playdates is that all children and families are given access to quality early childhood experiences that prepare them for lifelong learning, parent will have strong peer parent support network so that caretakers are able to forge connections and build bonds across diverse communities. Another projected future impact is that there is a Community Playdates Coalition (preferably 5 agencies) which consist of organization like VIET to launch Community Playdates in their own community and to replicate the model.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $250k - $500k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The cost of operating a child care center is at least 50% more than operating Community Playdates that also have all the ingredients of providing early childhood education. The model eliminates overhead expenses and engage community through in-kind investment. Community Playdates model will require a commitment from and a partnership among the federal, state, and local governments, business and labor, private institutions, and the public.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

While the state of Louisiana is working to reform its early childhood educational program, children under 5 year old in my community is still without access to early childhood education. The need has not been address since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. There is no other agency that is targeting my community to address this issue. Community Playdates is different from traditional learning environments is because it presents learning in the most simplistic method that allow community and parents/caregivers to play a role in teaching children to exceed in life.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

As a Child Advocate for over 15 years, the most promising shifts that can advance children's wellbeing is when all children have access to a safe and accessible, high quality early childhood education that includes a developmentally appropriate curriculum, knowledgeable and well-trained program staff and educators, comprehensive services that support their health, nutrition, and social well-being, in an environment that respects and supports diversity. When community initiated response to reduce barriers to participation in early childhood education. When every child has an equal start.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

I discovered about the Challenge through the Robert Wood Johnson's website and I am listed on their listserv.

Program Design Clarity

Community Playdates will target children under 5-year-old and their parents/caregivers. It is a 10 week program that engages families in meaningful play experiences. Through the 10 week program, participants will engage in the following sessions: Music & Movement, Yoga, Puppetry & Literacy, Clay, Recycled Arts, Cooking, Building & Sculptures, Science/Being an Observer of the World, Painting & Gardening. Community Playdates will take place at the public library once per week on a Sunday for two hours. Community Playdates will be lead by an artist and supported by Family Coaches.

Community Leadership

The development of Community Playdates is to address the inequality of access to early childhood education in the community. As one of the community stakeholders, I empowered myself to explore innovative concept that will create equality. To address the issues of equity, Community Playdates will take place at the local public library and will be equipped with all of the ingredients of a high quality early childhood educational program.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 0-1.5
  • 1.5 -3
  • 3 - 5

Spread Strategies

Community Playdates' main strategy is to create a coalition of Community Playdates Providers that will implement the model that will work to change community behavior as it relates to early childhood education. The world needs to be more child-friendly and not penalize a child because he/she is different. The key connection is to identify potential providers and engage them in the work and help leverage resources to expand Community Playdates.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

For the past fifteen years, I have worked with children from the most vulnerable communities. It is truly inspiring to see them thrive in life through their professional and personal achievements. Community Playdates' activities are designed to support the development of children that will cultivate one's self and purpose through arts and play and embracement from parents, family coaches and volunteers, children will feel part of the community.

Leadership Story

I arrived to the United States from Vietnam in 1975 at the age of 5-year-old. The thought of a mischievous teenager, like myself, in the field of social change was absolutely "nonsense." My turning point was in October 2001 when I co-founded the first non-profit organization in Louisiana that focuses on the needs of non-English speaking communities and to bridge the gap as it relates to cultural and language barriers. My commitment to social change is stronger than 15 years and that is because I believe every child deserve opportunities to exceed in life. Change can happened.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Community Playdate is still in its preliminary stage and has not receive any awards and/or honors.

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 75%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 25%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 0%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 25%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 75%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 0%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 25%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 25%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 50%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 75%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 25%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 100%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 0%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 0%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 100%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of apurva bajaj

I should state I motivated with your work. I needed to scrutinize such kind of article which is one of these, I've found here a lot of entrancing information. this site ideal for the understanding I need.

Photo of Charlotte Stites

Love the concept. Great solution to the identification of a community need. Love the name too!

Photo of Cyndi Nguyen

Charlotte: thank you for taking the time out to provide me with your feedback. I have updated my project and would love to hear what you think.

Photo of Charlotte Stites

Cyndi, I loved learning more and reading about your story. Early childhood education is so important, sounds like a great solution to expand quality resources to families in need. Are you familiar with National Center for Families Learning? They work to improve literacy. They have programs with families to create service projects in their communities. Might be an interesting partner for you. They are based in Louisville, KY.
Please check out  our project, the Smoketown Family Wellness Center. Our vision is to empower families to raise children who are healthy in mind, body and spirit. Would love your feedback!

Photo of Michael Arterberry

Hello Cindy! I love the idea and I believe it has great potential. Just some constructive feedback. You should consider whether parents will pay for this service or not. If not, where will you find the resources for your expected budget? Have you considered who will provide the services? How will you qualify them?  I really enjoyed reading about your idea and wish you the best of luck! Thanks

Photo of Cyndi Nguyen

Michael: thanks for taking the time to review my project and to provide constructive feedback. I have updated my project and would love to hear what you think.

Photo of Michael Scott

I know Cyndi through a Kellogg Fellowship. But I really got to see her work in action and it was breathtaking in the scope and depth. She knows her community and they know and trust her. She has built this over decades of trust building. It's impressive. This project continues on that Impact and fidelity. And is a smart sound investment to work that has earned it's reputation through its chops in delivering value for children and families. This is a wise choice for anyone.

Photo of Cyndi Nguyen

Michael: thank for taking the time out of your business schedule to provide me with your feedback and thoughts. I have updated information about my project. Please feel free to review and share your feedback. See you in Detroit in September.

Photo of Jaye I. Clement

Hi Cyndi!  Great idea and I am glad to support!  I suspect that this model will include a great deal of volunteerism which is an added bonus in the arena of civic engagement. Best of luck!

Photo of Cyndi Nguyen

Jaye, thanks for sharing and taking the time to provide me with feedback. Feel free to review my updates. 

Photo of Eric Foster

Good morning, Cyndi---

My feedback points are offered in the business/social entrepreneur lens that I hope is helpful.  Before that, I value and affirm your work and knowing you as a fellow Fellow.  Continued success.  Here are the points:

1. Innovative and distinctive:  Because of the lack of models, similar approaches and limitations, Community Playdate indeed is effective in being innovative.  I truly like the free-space concept for children to creatively encounter their learning.  Still, I think when innovation and 'first of its kind' are being communicated, it cannot be solely because of the lack of services in a market.  I would go a bit further if possible to give one clear example of how the learning tools are in fact, innovative.  For example, is the learning tool(s) via software, traditional---but creative instructors, materials, etc.----specifically innovative that no other learning provider has?  If so, I recommend providing brief and specific sharing to this fact.  Again, I see the innovation in the model and idea but you can score more points in highlighting how the specific product, service or good to the child is new and never done before.

2.  Communication---narrative and examples:  You really did well in framing and communicating the case for your model.  Going back to the your answer to 'Example,' if space allows, I would add a brief narrative of a generic named parent and child and what they would encounter when they step into Community Playdate.  That will strengthen your message and claims that a parent will have no fear, be a part of their child's development, etc.  For instance this would take the form of:  "When Melanie and her child enter into the sustaining and supportive space of Community Playdate, they both encounter the XXXXXXXX that starts their 5 hour cognitive interactive gameplay that provides XXXXXXXX with the help of an attending and affirming resident artist who gives them XXXXXXX."  If you are promoting innovative and claims of innovation to those who have never seen a similar model before, the 'user experience' narrative can be helpful.  You have the awesome ingredients here, but consider wrapping it up in the frame of 'what happens to a parent and child' when they touch my service on the first day?

3.  Founding Story:  It is a good start to see how you took what Katrina rendered for children and did something about it.  More should be stated however regarding what the Head Start fight and Battle Creek visit did in your time, sacrifice and intellectual resourcing to create the initiative.  In addition to the value of one's initiative, those who provide funds (foundations, lenders, etc.) for the use of social impact are often interested in the founder's struggle and sacrifice.  Can you tell us more from your Point of View and that of a child or parent that made you relentless in your drive to succeed and start such an impactful initiative?

4.  Financial and Value:  The sustainability area may be strengthened if you expand it from the usual 'I plan to get other sources of funding.'  Is there anything proprietary in the services, nominal fees and other social enterprise aspects that you envision money coming from?  If so, I would add that revenue source.  The value piece question is similar to the point regarding innovation.  You have a great opportunity to keep making that case!  In this regard, you use 'freely flow in open space' as a distinctive and value---You used that in the answer of how your project differs from other approaches.  It is at that point that I think you should define what 'freely flow in open space' specifically is for the reader.  I am sure this is more than just nice phrases-----it represents a different outcome.  However, if it is a distinctive result from what you do, I would share more. 

5.  Communication in general:  Good responses and clarity in your answers.  I would only offer you to keep reviewing for grammar points here and there.  

This is an awesome and new approach to the learning and development of children.  The goal of allowing them to freely discover themselves in open space will lead to great self-sufficiency and identity for them just as much as it will benefit their academic and cognitive skills.  This is great!

Photo of Cyndi Nguyen

Eric: thank you so much for your feedback. I valued your time and took your suggestion seriously and with much love! See you in Detroit in September.

Photo of Cyndi Nguyen

Feel free to review my updates and share your thoughts with me.