week 51: this week i'm gonna... help homeless children thrive.
Bigyan started visiting Horizons for Homeless Children when he was just three months old. His mother, Bishnu, had just moved to the U.S. from Nepal and found herself homeless as a result of a domestic violence situation; Horizons was there to support her. "His teachers are a second parent for him. I believe that," Bishnu says.
Homeless children have twice the rate of learning disabilities and three times the rate of emotional-behavioral disorders than children who are housed. For parents, homelessness is a traumatic experience that leaves them feeling very disempowered. "Our staff are really sensitive to the needs of our particular families," says a family advocate for Horizons. "We try everyday to just provide a very warm and stable and welcoming environment."
Horizons provides high-quality early education and opportunities for play so children can keep up with their peers. Throughout his time at Horizons, Bigyan has been supported by staff who are knowledgeable and effective in working with young children who are experiencing the trauma of homelessness, and Bishnu has been helped as well. Horizons takes a whole family approach, and the staff hold regular meetings to identify progresses and challenges each family is experiencing. A Family Advocate helps keep Bishnu on track and access resources she needs to accomplish her goals.
Knowing that her son was safe and well cared for at Horizons, Bishnu was able to go back to school and get a job. After three years of living in a shelter, Bishnu and Bigyan were recently able to move into a home of their own.
"I feel Horizons is not just a place you bring your child, you drop, and you go," Bishnu states. "I learn all my childcare, the parenting plans from them."
Bigyan is now in preschool. He loves singing songs for his friends, and talking to everyone about his day. You can often find him playing with letter blocks, listing out words that start with those letters. "There's been amazing changes in him, and he's just such a bright, little light right now," says Steiner.
Horizons for Homeless Children's mission is to improve the lives of young homeless children in Massachusetts and help their families succeed by providing high-quality early education, opportunities for play, and comprehensive family support services. Horizons wants to give every homeless child the opportunity to learn, play, and thrive.
With a specially trained staff whose efforts are supported and amplified by hundreds of committed volunteers and donors, Horizons provides hope and opportunity to the families they serve. Their four pillars of work include:
- Early Education Centers: operates one of the state’s top-ranked early education programs, which starts children along the path toward success at school
- Playspace Program: gives children in shelters play experiences that let them heal from the trauma of homelessness and lets them be kids for a few hours each week
- Family Partnerships Program: gives parents a much-needed respite from the difficulties of homelessness, a shoulder to lean on, and practical guidance toward getting their lives back on track
- Policy & Advocacy: highlights the unique needs of homeless children and families to ensure they are consistent priorities among policymakers on local, state, and federal levels
You can learn more about Horizons for Homeless Children in the video below.
Horizons for Homeless Children believes that all children have a right to play, play is key for healthy development, and play is one way that children heal from trauma. One of their most impactful initiatives, the Playspace Program, was founded in 1990 based on these ideas. In order to make healthy play possible for children living in shelters, Horizons builds and maintains developmentally appropriate “kid-friendly” spaces and stocks them with books, toys, and arts & crafts materials. These playspaces serve children from infancy to early elementary school age and make it possible for young homeless children to engage in critical learning and healing activities.
Each playspace has two-hour volunteer shifts that occur throughout the week. These shifts are often scheduled in conjunction with financial literacy classes, parenting classes, and other programming that parents need, but are often unable to attend without this childcare support.
"Playgroups are a big help. They give the moms a little time to themselves,” says Yvonne Rivers, program director at Carriage House, a shelter for first-time mothers and their children.
Children and parents involved in the Playspace Program have often gone through a lot of changes in a short time, such as leaving home and/or living in a car until arriving at the shelter. This can be especially hard for young children.
“For young children, routine is an important part of life,” states Meghan Schafer, Director of Playspace Programs. Horizons pays careful attention and sets up playspaces specifically for children working to heal from the trauma and uncertainty of homelessness. Toys are in the same place each week and their storage location is clearly labeled.
“They know that these toys won’t disappear from their lives,” says Schafer. And neither will Horizons. "It's all about building them up."
Notes for this week:
- December 21st is National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day (the longest night of the year).
- Our collective givetwig donation will sponsor new toys for a playspace, such as a play kitchen to inspire the next famous chef and some costumes to spur imagination.
- For more information regarding Horizons For Homeless Children, please check out their website.
this week i'm gonna donate to Horizons For Homeless Children.