If you only see the front of the Children of Mine center in Anacostia, you miss all of the activity and learning going on just feet away in the back yard.
The kids here couldn't wait to show off their garden. It’s full of mint, fresh vegetables and more. It's a rare treat for inner city youth to plant and play in the soil and taste the fruit of their labor.
Hannah Hawkins started the Children of Mine center in the early 1980's. D.C. was crime ridden and she found it scary and sad for the many children she ran into in her neighborhood.
“I got tired of seeing them begging for quarters and nickels and dimes and that's why I got started,” she says. “I got started in my living room.”
Now as many as eighty children a day come to the center after school. It's all free and runs solely on private donations. The children get lessons, meet with police officers, play and work on homework.
Hannah Hawkins works in the kitchen for hours feeding the children with food donated from the food bank.
Each child takes home a snack bag too.
Hawkins’ husband was murdered in 1970, leaving her alone with five children. After she raised them, she decided to dedicate her life to making her neighborhood a better place.
“So your children and my children will be able to walk these streets safely,” she says.
Hawkins says there are so many success stories she can't even count them. There’s Sulaiman Harris for example. He started coming to the center at age six. Before the age of 13, he lost his mother and father. He was held back in second grade but he went on to earn two degrees.
Now 29, Harris is a project manager with the federal government. He says Hawkins helped him beat the odds. Now he can be found at the center as a mentor himself.
And Hawkins dedication doesn't stop there. Once a month, she opens the center to the homeless, feeding them hot meals and getting them off the streets.
But the most joy can be found in the garden, as Hawkins continues to plant the seeds of hope for hundreds of D.C. children.
Hawkins hopes to open a bigger, brand new building in the near future.