PAL Q&A: Deb O’Brien
When did you start with Horizons?
I started as a PAL in the Fall of 2010.
Why did you start with Horizons?
I used to be a special education preschool teacher and left that to start a business with my husband. I found that I really missed the children so when I saw this volunteer opportunity in the newspaper it really spoke to me.
Where are your weekly shifts?
Inn Between in Peabody.
What do you enjoy most about being a PAL?
Connecting with the kids and seeing them reach milestones. I have been working on getting them all to sit for a short circle time to end our time together. At first it was difficult but now they gather and sit and sing. But then I let them pick from books I brought, and they sat through four stories! Quite incredible considering the ages and how I could never get them to sit for one.
Why would you recommend being a PAL?
We get so much more than we give. The smiles, high fives, and hugs are a reward each and every week for just showing up, being present, and caring. These kids come from all sorts of situations and giving them a few hours of fun and safety is what it is all about!
“We get so much more then we give. The smiles, high fives and hugs are a reward each and every week for just showing up, being present and caring.”
What impact has volunteering at Horizons had on your life?
It is the highlight to my week. I said this to my shelter liaison when I first started and she laughed. She said that the shelter can be tough so it was good to have some joy.
Are there any specific stories that stick out in your memory?
There are many…it is hard to choose. One night the younger kids were sick with something going through the shelter. There were three older kids who came in and we made Christmas cards for veterans overseas. The powerful messages they wrote and pictures that they colored were inspiring. They were so happy to be able to give back to someone else. I sent them off to the organization that was collecting them knowing that they would never understand the depth of the kids who wrote those cards.
What one piece of advice would you give to a new PAL?
To carve out the time and go into it with an open heart. But beware…once you start you may never want to stop!
Is there anything else about your experience that you’d like to share?
Horizons has such a good support system behind all of the PALs and Playspaces. They really have the infrastructure down pat. You can never say enough about a well-run organization and how much it contributes to the overall happiness of the volunteers.