SAUGUS — Maureen Mahoney wanted her experience as a single parent to inspire young mothers to get on their feet. Two years later, she volunteers because of her love for their children.
Mahoney is one of dozens of volunteers with Horizons for Homeless Children, a Massachusetts organization devoted exclusively to serving homeless children, who spends around two hours each week playing games and doing other activities with them.
“I was a single parent myself,” she said. “My kids were nine months and 22 months when my husband left and I thought I was going to die. I didn’t know how I was going to do it.”
Initially, Mahoney thought her story could help others who are struggling. But instead it became the children that kept her going back week after week.
“We get an hour and a half each week,” said Mahoney. “Yeah, it’s an hour and a half, but you can make a difference in that hour and a half. The consistency is there. When I started, my purpose was that I thought I could make a difference. Now I just love them.”
The organization works in 93 family shelters across the state, including three in Lynn. Dedicated spaces are transformed into play spaces with children’s furniture and toys.
“If a mom — and most of the (people) we work with are single mothers with children — comes in with children, the three or four of them are living in one room at the shelter,” said Stephen Croke, Northeast Playspace Program Director. “They just don’t have the space for children to play and a lot of the shelters are overcrowded. These play spaces might give them the only time that they’re able to play during the week.”
The more volunteers that sign up to play with the children, the more time they’re able to spend in the space, said Croke. The play activities are meant to provide a safe and supportive space while encouraging the children to use their creativity.
The children’s parents can use this time to have family meetings with shelter staff, take part in a teen parenting program that allows them to do homework or work on their GED, or learn how to budget their money. The parents are required to stay on the property during the play time.
“When you have children, it’s hard to do anything,” said Croke. “Take a shower, laundry, chores. By having the volunteers there, it allows the parents to do things they wouldn’t normally do.”
The volunteers are trained in three-hour workshops, during which they learn about family homelessness and what it looks like, information about Horizons for Homeless Children, and managing the play spaces. The most recent training was Saturday at the Saugus Public Library. Twenty-seven people signed up.