Horizons for Homeless Children twelfth annual women’s breakfast

There turn out to have been just under a thousand attendees at the twelfth annual Women’s Breakfast to benefit Horizons for Homeless Children, but the more common estimate, at least during the event, was “tons.” Tons of people braved the rain and squeezed around tons of tables at the Westin Copley’s America Ballroom, a gilded and seemingly endless space

There turn out to have been just under a thousand attendees at the twelfth annual Women’s Breakfast to benefit Horizons for Homeless Children, but the more common estimate, at least during the event, was “tons.” Tons of people braved the rain and squeezed around tons of tables at the Westin Copley’s America Ballroom, a gilded and seemingly endless space. By Sumanth Prabhaker

Quiche, juice and all forms of pastry adorned the tons of plates and glasses, and the clinking of silverware could be heard one floor down. Tons of money was raised – over $160,000 in individual donations, sealed in little blue and white envelopes and dropped into bags at the center of every table, in addition to the $395,000 already generated by ticket sales and sponsorships. A veritable tonnage of good will filled the room, so much you could almost grab hold.

The morning’s beneficiary, Horizons for Homeless Children, is a local non-profit organization committed to ending the crisis of child and family homelessness. Their facilities include three Community Children’s Centers, which together provide safe, stimulating, and educational environments for 175 children every day, free of charge. For parents, there are counselors, job-training courses, and parenting workshops on-site. HHC also works with shelters to create innovative Playspace Programs for young residents, improving the lives of thousands of children every week. Each year they hold a Women’s Breakfast to help raise the funds needed to sustain and grow their charitable efforts.

While the twelfth annual Women’s Breakfast culminated many months of planning by the staff of HHC, it began and ended in less than three hours. During those three hours, various parties took the microphone, including HHC president Asa Fanelli, who detailed a number of forthcoming initiatives that will further the organization’s positive influence on the Massachusetts homeless population. Community members and long-time volunteers spoke of their own experiences, running coat drives, donating art supplies from their homes, playing with the children. Liz Murray, the inspiration behind the Lifetime movie “Homeless to Harvard,” shared her life story with the attendees – how she grew up with drug-addicted parents in “one of those neighborhoods that you heard about,” lived on the streets or with friends throughout her years in high school, and earned a scholarship to attend Harvard. In three hours’ time, the majority of one thousand people could be heard to cry in some form. People would spill coffee and not even remove their eyes from the speaker on stage.

Perhaps no speaker evoked more sympathy good will and tonnage than Yasmin Figueroa. Yasmin moved as a young adult from Puerto Rico to Boston, where she met the man who was to become her fiancé and the father of her daughter, Deliyah. Both found work and then lost it as the economy worsened; Yasmin was pregnant when she was let go. They lost their apartment soon after, and had to move into a shelter. (The room, at this point in the story, was as silent as it would be all morning. Not one fork seemed to be in use.) When Deliyah was born, Yasmin had no choice but to bring her along on unsuccessful job interviews, until a case worker at her shelter told her about HHC. Having a place where Deliyah could be looked after turned out to make all the difference. Yasmin returned to school, completing the education studies she’d begun in Puerto Rico, and she now works as a teacher, fulfilling a childhood dream. “I have big, big plans,” she said with a grin.

Commenting on the pleasures HHC’s children take in little things – “good books,” “a plastic pizza in the toy kitchen” – Asa Fanelli told one thousand people very bluntly: “It’s easy to change a life.” In three hours, and in one room, many lives had been changed. There will certainly be fewer stories like Liz Murray’s and Yasmin Figueroa’s at next year’s Women’s Breakfast.

As this one ended, the room was cleared of plates and coats and scraps of quiche, and one thousand people descended the escalator three stories to resume their everyday activities. Some remained in the building, where there are stores to patron, while others rushed off to the subway entry. For the staff of HHC, this meant collecting their things and returning to their office, where 175 children were waiting for them.

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