One of the few homeless shelters in the area that caters to families, Family Gateway is also one of the few places where an entire family can volunteer, something architect Eddie Maestri appreciates.
The nonprofit exclusively serves homeless families, providing both shelter and social and educational services to homeless children and their families, offering care that includes mental and physical health care, early childhood education, GED preparation, job training and even employment placement assistance.
Maestri and his husband, Adam Moore, are co-chairs of Family Gateway’s DAYtoPLAY event, which will be held on Saturday, April 7, 2018, from 1 to 4 p.m. at AT&T Performing Arts Center/Annette Strauss Artist Square, honoring the late founder of Family Gateway, former Dallas Mayor Annette Strauss. Lara Wilhelm-Harrison and Steve Harrison are also serving as co-chairs, and Marlene and John Sughrue are honorary chairs.
The fact that Family Gateway is a family shelter is what attracted the Maestri-Moore household to volunteer there with their children.
“It is a family shelter – we take in families in need – and we serve all families, no matter the type of family, the religion, the circumstances, anything,” Maestri explained. “We’re two dads, with kids. Family Gateway is the only shelter we could go to, that I know of, if we needed it.”
“It’s family oriented, and they’ll take anybody — a grandmother who is the guardian of her 15-year-old grandson, they would go there.”
Maestri said that fact alone resonated, but the holistic approach the nonprofit takes to addressing the reasons why a family might find itself homeless also appealed to him.
“Say you have a daughter and her children, and their living with her mom, but they have a fight, and Mom kicks them out,” he said. “Family Gateway’s approach is, ‘We need to help you mend your family unit so you’re not homeless — so you have that support system again.’”
Maestri said that a visit to Family Gateway will push away a lot of misconceptions people might have about what being homeless looks like, too.
“What’s interesting is if you go there during the day, it’s almost empty,” he said. “Most of the adults have jobs, the kids are in school. They’re working, but they can’t make ends meet.”
Maestri said that the lack of affordable housing can really hamper a family’s budget.
“There’s not really a lower housing market,” he said. “I’m an architect, and we design homes. While we are doing all these really nice, high-end homes, we also need to realize that there is a lack.”
As he works with Family Gateway, Maestri said he’s learned a lot about what homelessness looks like — and why it’s so hard to really know how many people are housing insecure.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of studies done to find out how many people really are homeless in Dallas,” he said. “Some are living in cars, or with friends and family, or in hotels.”
And having children can complicate how readily people seek assistance, too, he said.
“Fear is a big factor,” he said. “A lot of people are scared to seek help — they don’t want their kids taken away from them or something.”
Maestri said his family volunteers at the nonprofit together, and DAYtoPLAY event was another way he and his husband could show their children what the world really looks like.
“It’s so important for us, for our kids, that we show them what our community looks like,” he said.
DAYtoPLAY, which is in its inaugural year, is the organization’s first family fundraiser. “The purpose is to allow kids of all backgrounds to come together and just be kids — no stereotypes, no barriers,” Maestri said.
“Kids play, and that’s how they work and learn — we know that,” he said. But even while the event may look like child’s play, “it is a fundraiser,” he said. “It’s also a way we can raise awareness in the community that there is a shelter for families here, and there is a need for it.”
Maestri said that often at events where volunteer families and client families comingle, it strikes him how difficult it is to really pick out who is who.
“You notice that you really can’t be, ‘Oh, let me find the people are homeless,’” he said. “No, it really could happen to anyone.”
“One of the things that I was really exciting is how much the lines are blurred, and you realize that it can happen to anyone,” he said.
The event will have bounce houses, booths, giant Jenga. Sponsors have booths, too, and there will be live music, face painting, donut decorating and more. Interactive booths will be sponsored by the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Zoo, DART, Hanuman Homies, HeARTs of Maya, KidKraft, Inc., Kids Helping Kids, Maestri Studio, National Charity League, Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Promise of Peace Gardens, SPARK!, TalkSTEM, The Birthday Party Project, Top Pot Doughnuts, and Young Men’s Service League.
To purchase tickets or to become a sponsor, click here. DAYtoPlay will start at 1 p.m. and end at 4 p.m. April 7, at AT&T Performing Arts Center/Annette Strauss Artist Square.