Connected \\ April 4, 2018

Partnership celebrates the value of play

Over the past 18 years, Horizons for Homeless Children has installed play areas in more than 150 shelters across Massachusetts. Here children encounter the typical tools to nurture imagination — dress-up clothes, Play-Doh, puppets, kitchen sets, blocks and books — but also caring volunteers who enable kids in the midst of a family crisis to just be kids for a while.

In conjunction with our PlayTime exhibition, which celebrates the role of play to inspire creativity and solve problems, PEM has partnered with Horizons for Homeless Children to support the work of this Boston-based nonprofit organization.

“We know play is absolutely critical throughout life and we are committed to providing all children with opportunities to grow and develop,” said Kate Barrand, CEO and President of Horizons for Homeless Children. “We were thrilled with this opportunity to partner with a leading institution like the Peabody Essex Museum around our shared commitment to the value of play in all of our lives.”

Photo courtesy of Horizons for Homeless Children.

As part of this initiative, PEM recently commissioned artist/educator Marisa Morán Jahn to create a customizable playtime experience for volunteers to use with children in the shelters. More specifically, the artist will produce an interactive storytelling activity guide with prompts for craft, literacy and dramatic play activities that will be centered around a colorful cast of characters who eat words and stories. Jahn will pilot the project at an upcoming PEM Pals program and provide training to Horizons’ volunteers.

Horizons for Homeless Children has more than 900 dedicated Playspace Activity Leaders at present, or PALs, who commit to volunteer two hours every week. While the children are supervised, their mothers get time to meet with caseworkers, attend financial-planning workshops, make uninterrupted phone calls, study for classes, and, in some cases, just take a shower.


Photo courtesy of Horizons for Homeless Children.

Deb O’Brien has volunteered as a PAL for seven years. “It’s very rewarding because you really do feel like you are impacting the whole family,” she said. “I think what PEM is doing is fabulous because it will really enrich our time spent with the children.”

In coming months, Barrand said she looks forward to working with PEM to celebrate the transformative power of play. She added that she’s grateful that Kate O’Neil, a board member of Horizons for Homeless Children and a PEM Overseer, helped bring the organizations together.

“I firmly believe that anytime nonprofits can collaborate together around a topic, the better we are all going to be,” said Barrand. “We don’t think we have all the answers. This is a wonderful opportunity to get people together to solve a problem that is bigger than any one institution.”


Tara Spalding, Horizons for Homeless Children Chief Development and Marketing Officer; Trevor Smith, Curator of the Present Tense and PlayTime; and Kate Barrand, Horizons President and Chief Executive Officer. © 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola

Cambridge Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council and PEM’s Present Tense Initiative provided support for the PEM partnership with Horizons for Homeless Children.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photos courtesy of Horizons for Homeless Children.

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