Beverly resident Elizabeth Dick has spent years serving on community boards and offering up her free time to various organizations.
“Volunteering has always been one of my passions,” she said.
For the past five years, Dick 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 below the age of 6, and arms their parents with tools - like job training - to break the cycle of homelessness.
“There are homeless families all over the state, even in affluent areas,” Dick said. “I think it’s so important that people understand that.”
By spending two hours per week playing with and reading to the shelter’s children, Dick and other PALS help reduce the lasting trauma of homelessness that can negatively impact a child’s brain development.
“You’re making a difference,” Dick said. “And you can see it.”
Dick said she learned about Horizons for the Homeless through her friend, Kate Barrand, now president and CEO of the organization.
“I wanted to volunteer for them for a long time,” Dick said. “So when they opened a playspace in Gloucester, which was so convenient, I knew I wanted to take my PAL training.”
PALs commit to a six-month period, during which they volunteer at a shelter for one two-hour session per week.
“It’s wonderful,” Dick said. “And it’s so fun to be able to go and play with children when your children are grown.”
While it can be fun, Dick will admit that it's not always an easy gig.
“It can be very demanding and difficult at times,” she said. “These children have been in some very trying situations, and it can be difficult to deal with some of those issues.”
So, when she sees a child make a breakthrough, it warms Dick’s heart.
“We had an infant come to us who wouldn’t make eye contact.” Dick recalled, adding that after a few weeks, the child started gazing and staring at her and her PAL colleagues. “It’s because he had found a safe place.”
Dick also recalled a pair of brothers who had come to the shelter; the youngest one would not speak.
“It took about four weeks,” she remembered. “We started singing to him … and, eventually, he started singing.”
It’s those kind of moments that keep Dick motivated and wanting to continue volunteering for as long as she is able.
“I don’t see any reason to stop,” she said. “You get back so much more than what you give.”