There’s a simple but powerful mantra that Senior Financial Analyst Eddie Provencio always tries to live by: Make a positive difference in somebody else’s life. This giving attitude is what led the native Texan to join his church in putting together Thanksgiving baskets—complete with a turkey and all the trimmings—for families in need 20 years ago, and it’s a tradition that continues today.

It was through this volunteer opportunity that Eddie was introduced to Family Gateway, a nonprofit founded 30 years ago by former Dallas Mayor Annette Strauss, whose mission is to end child homelessness in Dallas. Serving homeless children and their families, Family Gateway runs a 30-room shelter in downtown Dallas, which houses about 100 people at any given time.  

It’s not your typical shelter, though, where people sleep at night and then leave during the day. Instead, Family Gateway is a more long-term haven, with families moving in and staying from 90 to 120 days.  

“Homelessness is a powerful predictor for both mental and physical health outcomes,” says Ellen Magnis, executive director of Family Gateway. “It’s just as traumatic to a child as child abuse.” 

That’s why Ellen and her team work right away to get the children stabilized and in school or an early childhood program. For the adults, Family Gateway connects them to job opportunities and provides counseling on topics like work readiness, parenting education, self-care and finances. About half of the parents are working, and a reprieve at Family Gateway gives them the opportunity to save money so they can make a deposit on an apartment.

“Our families are just like anyone else,” Ellen says. “There are so many families in our community who are on the edge, and then they have just one bad thing happen, and here they are.”

At Family Gateway, these families have the opportunity to step back, regroup and regain self-sufficiency, and it’s through the help of volunteers that the organization can offer the resources to get them back on their feet. Helping kids with their homework, mentoring and preparing meals are just some of the volunteer opportunities available. Organizing or donating items like bedding, toiletries and dishes is also welcome year-round.

“Anything you can think of that a typical family needs day to day, we have 30 families living here who need it,” Ellen says. That also includes toys, since Family Gateway is collecting donations for its holiday store, which is open to the families and invites parents to shop for their kids’ holiday gifts.

Another volunteer option: Family Gateway’s adopt-a-room program, which Eddie took part in through his church. Volunteers can help prepare a room—or multiple rooms, as was the case with Eddie’s church—for new families before they move in.

“Having volunteers come in is just a bright part of the day for us and our families,” Ellen says.

And the team at Family Gateway is particularly fond of Eddie. “Without a doubt, Eddie’s role as a much-valued volunteer for Family Gateway and his consistent efforts to share our mission have resulted in untold benefits for our clients—from funding that allows us to deliver services to making our clients’ living areas more comfortable,” says Kathy Kidwell, director of community engagement at Family Gateway. “In this season of Thanksgiving, we’re hugely grateful to count Eddie as one of our greatest champions.”  

As Eddie will tell you, “A stranger is only a stranger as long as you don’t interact with them. So reach out to somebody, and you will make a difference if you have compassion behind it—anything small can make a huge difference in somebody else’s life.”