The Canton


“Canton woman goes well beyond child’s play at homeless shelter”

“Canton woman goes well beyond child’s play at homeless shelter”

6/4/2019 – For the past three years, Hilary Burrows, of Canton, has volunteered as a Playspace Activity Leader (PAL) for Horizons for Homeless Children, an organization that provides resources such as early education and safe playspaces within shelters to children younger than six, and arms their parents with tools (like job training) to break the cycle of homelessness. By spending two hours per week playing with and reading to the shelter’s children, Burrows helps reduce the lasting trauma of homelessness that can negatively impact a child’s brain development.

Burrows, originally from London, raised two daughters as a single parent and worked as a secretary and legal secretary for more than 25 years until she retired four years ago. She now has four 4 grandchildren.

The paper asked her a few questions:

How and why did you get involved in this volunteer effort?

I have long wanted to work with children in some capacity, and Horizons for Homeless Children has provided me with that opportunity. I saw a Horizons flyer posted in a Stoughton diner and looked into the organization. In my research, I found that Horizons provides high-quality early education, opportunities for play and comprehensive family support services to families experiencing homelessness. I wanted to be a part of that mission, so I applied for training.

What’s the most satisfying moment you’ve had while helping a child?

One of the little boys who attended my Playspace shift was often surly and uncooperative, no doubt as a result of changes in his life over which he had no control. As we neared Valentine’s Day, I brought in some inexpensive heart-shaped paper doilies and colorful stickers and asked him if he’d like to make a valentine decoration for his mom. Reticent at first, he soon became engrossed in placing stickers all over his valentine doily. He was most particular about which stickers he wanted to use and where he wanted to place them. He had choices! The pride on his face and that of his mother when he presented her with his finished masterpiece was evident. Then as he left, he turned and hugged me around my knees. While he’s still not what I’d call a chatty child, his hug that day spoke volumes!

Who or what were your greatest positive influences while growing up?

Growing up in post-World War II England meant that material things like toys were at a premium as factories were gradually rebuilt after the London Blitz. Books, however, were more readily available in both comic book-style and hard-cover. I was so very fortunate to live next door to a wonderful uncle who was blessed with endless patience. Each Friday he bought me a comic book and after dinner, I’d settle on his lap while he read it to me. Long after I could read comics books and hard-covers by myself, I still made myself comfortable on his generous lap while he read to me. He was, however, astute enough to bargain with me – practice my hated multiplication tables with him and only afterwards enjoy a story.Another blessing and positive influence in my growing years was a neighbor I called Auntie Daisy. She was my unofficial and unpaid baby-sitter while my mother and father worked. What wonderful hours I spent with her! I can remember her standing me on a stool at a kitchen sink filled with soapy water where I played endlessly with bubbles and experienced the deliciously slippery feeling of soapy water between my fingers and the joy of watching bubbles float around me. So, what if soapy water landed on the floor and all over me? Auntie Daisy didn’t mind. My messes were unimportant to her so long as I was having fun.

My mother’s burning desire to own a home of her own trickled down to me. Although Mum didn’t achieve her dream until shortly before her death, determination, some sacrifices and a stubborn refusal to believe that a single mother couldn’t be a homeowner saw me with the keys to my first house at 29 years old. Never give up your dreams!

What do the children get out of interacting with you and each other?

I think children at the shelter enjoy their time at Playspace because it offers them the opportunity to use their imagination while interacting with their peers in dress-up games, the space to make minor messes while practicing crafts and a chance to enjoy quiet time while a Playspace Activity Leader (PAL) reads to them. Playspace gives the children an opportunity to get to know one another and to feel comfortable in a new and perhaps strange environment. It helps them learn to share toys and most importantly, to enjoy just being a child.

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