For the past 11 years, the homeless children living temporarily at BronxWorks’ Jackson Avenue Family Residence have watched out the window on Tuesdays for the arrival of a lively group of volunteers, eager for their evening of “Bedtime Stories.” Beth Lehmann, their dedicated leader for all 11 years, arrives well prepared each week with crafts, snacks, and books for the children to read with the volunteers and then take back to their family’s apartment.
Roselie Aviles, the residence’s recreation coordinator, recognizes that all the volunteers “really care about the children. They’ve given us so much and believe in this work.” She stresses that for these children, “consistency in their lives, that they can depend on someone who really cares and knows them,” is critical, particularly given the instability in their families’ situations.
Tamara Lipshie is one of the longest-standing volunteers; she’s been coming for over seven years. She recognizes how little these children have, and notes that they come from a wide range of different family situations so they benefit greatly from the social enrichment provided through the one-on-one attention they receive by reading with the volunteers.
Five years ago, the children’s recreation programs faced major budget cuts, so the volunteers took it into their own hands to fundraise to ensure the programs would continue. Nicole Boisvert, another seven-year volunteer, raised over $1,000 with a Facebook campaign. Beth has consistently secured book donations for the children to take home each week, encouraging the children to read on their own time. She pointed out that so few children living in poverty have even a single book of their own.
Doing her part, Tamara, an avid cyclist, initiated the first BronxWorks TD Five Boro Bike Tour charity team to raise additional funds. Another long-term volunteer, Marcus Elias, has been a multi-year team member as well. In fact, BronxWorks is now seeking members for our team this year (see below). All this hard work has been instrumental in maintaining resources for the children’s recreation programs.
The benefit to the children is clear. Manny, who says sadly that his family has been at the shelter for longer than they hoped, loves these evenings “because I always learn new words, and we do all these activities, and get cookies!” Shaneya, a 12-year-old found with her nose buried in a mystery, says, “I like to read more than before.”
The fun these evenings bring is a sentiment shared by the volunteers. A couple expressed that they grew up in similar situations with poor families, and they wanted to help the children in the way they needed support when they were young. Another, Janice Lorine, explains her dedication by acknowledging that the children “don’t have the same advantages that I had at their age.”
BronxWorks is grateful to the many volunteers, partners, and supporters who bring joy and fun to these children who may be without a home for now but are not without many committed friends.
The BronxWorks three family residences provide temporary shelter for 276 homeless families at a time. Children living in the residences enjoy activities including reading, art, field trips, swimming, and other activities as part of the children’s recreation programs. One example is Bedtime Stories, an evening enrichment program at the Jackson Avenue Family Residence hosted by volunteers that come through a partnership with New York Cares.
The BronxWorks TD Five Boro Bike Tour team has been a crucial component of funding children’s recreation programs for the past four years and is continuing its efforts this year. Click here to learn more and consider joining our team!
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