Volunteers bringing value, one classroom at a time-Horizons For Homeless Children

Volunteers bringing value, one classroom at a time

Horizons is fortunate to have one of the most dedicated volunteer bases in Massachusetts. Individuals from all over the state, with different interests, in different industries and stages of life, choose to devote their time to Horizons because of their shared belief in the mission and work we do.  

Classroom volunteers are a subset of Horizons’ volunteer base who work alongside teachers assisting in day-to-day activities. Whether leading an outdoor game on the playground or quietly reading a book, classroom volunteers are a vital part of Horizons’ Early Education centers.  

When COVID-19 disrupted classroom activities in March of last year, Horizons made the difficult decision to suspend classroom volunteer shifts indefinitely to limit outside contact.  

However, by the fall of 2020, it was time to start bringing classroom volunteers back – albeit with some adjustments, and Horizons had just the volunteers in mind to pilot the return to service. 

A Return to Early Education Centers 

“Students came back to school in July and by September we were ready to welcome some volunteers back to classroom. To start, they were invited to join staff and students for outdoor activities, like walks and playground time,” said Shelby O’Sullivan, Horizons’ Greater Boston Playspace Program and Volunteer Manager. “We had three classroom volunteers we knew would be up for the challenge of helping us work through how we could bring back classroom volunteers safely.” 

Prior to each shift, volunteers fill out a health questionnaire to maintain health standards organization-wide. 

 Lisa Tucker, a classroom volunteer for 19 years, Leslie Wilcott-Henrie, a classroom volunteer for 12 years, and Lillie Lombardi, a Horizons volunteer for two years, were chosen to pilot the return.  

“When we initially got the news that our shifts would be suspended, I was crushed. Personally, I was disappointed that I would not get to spend time with the kids – it’s my favorite part of the week, but I also knew what school meant to the kids; it was their time to just be children,” said Leslie. 

When Lisa, Leslie, and Lillie were contacted to come back and pilot the program, they were elated but still had some apprehensions.  

The First Day  

“My number one question was, ‘would the kids trust us the way they had?’ I was concerned the children were not going to recognize me, so much time had passed, and now I was wearing a mask,” said Lisa. “How were they going to know who I was?” 

Lisa went on to describe her first day back, and the moment her trepidation fell away.  

“I walked up to the children and as soon as I was close, I heard one of the little ones yell ‘Lisa, let’s play pirates!’ It was like no time had passed. He reached back 6 months and remembered our pirate game and was ready to play.” 

“Tears came to my eyes, I was so moved. It was such a testament to the resilience of children, and what a remarkable place Horizons is,” added Lisa.  

“On my first day back volunteering on the playground it was like we were all reclaiming something that had been taken from us by the pandemic,” said Leslie. “We laughed and played, and I was once again overcome by how important Horizons is to these children.” 

“I was reminded again that my work here is part of something bigger.” 

Bringing the Music Back 

Lillie volunteers with Horizons in a slightly different way than Lisa and Leslie. Lillie’s primary role is playing guitar for the children in Horizons’ Early Education Centers. Now in an outdoor capacity, Lillie plays guitar during playground time, adhering to social distancing guidelines.  

“I’m used to children sitting with me and strumming the strings of my guitar after a session, but that’s now all changed to comply with social distancing,” said Lillie.  

“We let the music keep us connected,” said Lillie. “It turns out Baby Shark is still a hit from 6 feet away.” 

Part of Horizons’ Community 

 All three of these dedicated classroom volunteers were eager to get back, not only because they love the work they do but because they understand the importance of their service to Horizons.  

All three women shared the same sentiment; when they are volunteering in the classroom, they are utility players. They are helping teachers; they are an infusion of energy midday and another set of helping hands to do laundry. They know how much these contributions make a difference in the day for teachers.  

“When you have witnessed the goodness of this place, just the pure goodness of this place, you’re completely enamored. All it takes is seeing the dedication of the teachers, the resilience of the families, and the brilliance of the children and you’re hooked, ready to help in any capacity needed,” added Lisa. 

Horizons relies on dedicated volunteers like Lisa, Leslie and Lillie to keep our important work moving forward. “Without our committed base of volunteers, Horizons wouldn’t be able to fulfill its mission. Between our Playspace and our Early Education programs, volunteers help us reach more children who are experiencing homelessness in Boston and beyond,” explained Tara Spalding, Chief Marketing, Development and Volunteer Engagement Officer at Horizons.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Horizons, your work as a volunteer, in whatever capacity you choose, will have a direct and lasting impact on the children we work with. Check out the different volunteer opportunities here.  

Check out the video below to see a few photos of our classroom volunteers in action, set to an original song by Lillie Lombardi.

This post was written by Rachel San Giacomo, a regular contributor to Horizons’ blog.