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The Sun Chronicle: Group seeks to train volunteers to work with homeless kids

A non-profit group that helps homeless children has a simple request: Want to play with us?

Horizons for Homeless Children needs volunteers to play with children in shelters in Attleboro and Taunton and Saturday will be hosting a training program in West Bridgewater for people interested in becoming Playspace Activity Leaders (PALs) for its Playspace Program.

Volunteers are assigned two-hour volunteer shifts throughout the week at local shelters and lead playtime activities to help each child heal from the trauma of homelessness, creating a “kid-friendly” space.

“Through play we can help these children not only learn, but heal,” Playspace Program Director, Meghan Schafer said. “Every kid deserves to play.”

There are 16,000 homeless children under the age of 6 in Massachusetts — that’s enough kids to fill the entire TD Garden, the group says.

For children living in a shelter, Playspace visits with PALs may be the only opportunity for play.

“Our Playspace Program helps make sure that children can experience the joys of childhood, no matter where they live,” Kate Barrand, President & CEO of the group said.

“Critical developmental milestones happen at such a young age, and volunteers like those in Southeastern Massachusetts help ensure children living in shelters are given the opportunity to learn, play, and thrive. They are an incredible corps of people that help make this program possible for us and our shelter partners.”

According to Schafer, volunteers have to be at least 16 and must be assisted by a legal guardian at the shelter until they turn 18.

“Volunteering with Horizons will give people the chance to give back to their communities and to people who just need an extra leg up,” Schafer said. “As well, these children are our future, and how we treat children is a reflection on us as a community.”

Matthew Slaney, 46, of Mansfield started volunteering for the organization three years ago and as someone who works in finance, Slaney said he feels compassionate toward people who are financially unstable and joined to help those struggling.

After going through the training and orientation process, Slaney was assigned to volunteer at one of the local shelters in Attleboro.

As a father of two young girls, Slaney came to the realization that his children were just like those he bonded with at the shelter.

“There are many families who can’t fathom what it would be like to be homeless, never mind their children” he said.

Slaney said the children look forward to their time with the PALs and get excited for all the activities they plan for the hour — whether that’s sculpting with Play Doh, playing basketball, finger painting or playing a board game.

“With each session I have, I come out inspired,” Slaney said.

To sign up for Saturday’s training program please visit www.horizonschildren.org

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