Third Annual COMBO Playdate Bolsters Family and Community Health

May 2, 2024

On the first Sunday in April, Columbia’s Covid-19 Mother Baby Outcomes (COMBO) Initiative hosted its third annual Playdate: a free event in Washington Heights that supports family health by investing in community health, connecting young families with equitable, accessible, meaningful resources—and with each other. More than 500 attendees came out for this joyous afternoon packed with family-friendly activities, giveaways, prizes, and more!

This year’s April event date sparked a special Earth Month theme, a partnership with Columbia’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health, and a suite of environmentally-focused attractions, including a petting zoo, urban farming, face painting, Muay Thai self-defense, and the chance to make (and take home) sustainable products like non-toxic cleaning spray and recycled-bottle self-watering planters.

“We started the Playdate as a way to give back to the wonderful community that makes our research possible,” says Dani Dumitriu, MD, PhD, principal investigator of the COMBO Initiative: a novel study of the pandemic’s effects on families. COMBO’s enduring commitment to fostering family and community health has seen the Playdate grow into a meaningful annual event that celebrates and supports the Washington Heights and surrounding communities, which, as home to mostly Spanish-speaking and immigrant families, continue to be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Some event highlights: 50 attendees were certified in infant and adult CPR/AED, and 81 CPR kits were distributed so attendees could bring life-saving skills into their community. The Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health provided families with free lead testing on toys they brought from home, and handed out free testing swabs. Reach Out and Read helped host a free book giveaway: families and teachers took over 1,500 books (in both English and Spanish) back to their homes and schools. And families enjoyed bilingual English/Spanish read-alouds, and even bilingual musical storytimes!

Dr. Dumitriu feels strongly about creating an event that doesn’t just talk about community health, but actually impacts it in practical ways: “With the Playdate, we lift up our community’s voices: asking what kind of support would be most valuable to them, and offering tangible resources in response.”

mom and boy at combo

Playdate sponsors contributed raffle prizes like Playspace passes, house plants and microgreen grow kits, self-care bundles, sensory baskets, gift cards, an annual grocery store membership, and a year’s supply of non-toxic diapers and wipes. Mission-driven organizations shared valuable information on a variety of important topics including safer home environments, the right to respectful maternity care, the physiology of childbirth, and civic engagement.

“This event was far more than a fun day outside,” says the Playdate’s event director, Esther Greeman. “As a native New Yorker, I'm deeply aware of the limited nature experiences available to our youngsters. And support for environmental health is especially important in communities like Washington Heights, which are also disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change.”

The Playdate is part of COMBO’s mission to support lasting community health. This free event prioritizes equity and accessibility, ensuring that every family can fully enjoy and engage in the day’s activities, which arecrafted with guidance from Columbia doctors, scientists, nurses, and social workers to support young children's development, and to offer parents and caregivers valuable experiences, tangible resources, and joyous connection in community.