Celebrating Laura Dionisio: 2024 Pillars of Change Honoree

Laura Dionisio began volunteering at Sanctuary for Families in early 2023 after being encouraged by a friend. The mission of Sanctuary really resonated with Laura, and knowing that she could help provide a safe and fun learning space, she felt drawn to work directly with the children.

Sarah Burke House, Sanctuary’s large transitional shelter, was looking for workshop leaders to provide enriching opportunities for school-age children in their on-site Afterschool Program. Laura was onboarded as a volunteer and connected to the Children and Family Services Program team. For over a year, Laura has been creating and leading monthly STEM workshops. Laura plans the activities, makes a flier to hang at the shelter, teaches a fun science lesson, and brings all of the necessary materials to create a STEM project.

To date, the children have made rubberband-propelled cars, created rollercoasters out of paper and marbles, built towers using spaghetti and tape, learned about chemical reactions through writing messages using invisible ink, and other fun activities that make learning and STEM fun for the kids!

Heidi Gomez, Program Coordinator, Children and Family Services at Sarah Burke House, says,

“Not only is Laura a passionate and incredible volunteer, she is a woman who currently works in STEM as well. She brings compassion and joy to the program and is a great role model for our students who may want to explore different areas of STEM. One thing that she always leaves behind with us at Sarah Burke House is wonder, curiosity and excitement to try new things!”

Laura shares a couple of favorite memories, “One time a younger child, around 4 years old, joined the STEM workshop for the first time. One of the older girls who had been to the STEM workshop a few times was explaining to the younger one that ‘Miss Laura is an engineer, and she does fun science stuff with us!’ That really warmed my heart”.

“Every time I go to the classroom and see the different themed art work they do like for Black History month or women’s history month I’m reminded of how much the staff care for these kids. There’s such positivity and encouragement despite the situation the kids were previously living in. Many times, I’ve seen the kids write encouraging words on the white board and I’m humbled by it every time. It reminds me to think positively even on ‘bad” days.'” — Laura

It is evident that Laura has given the children and grown-ups something to look forward to each month. The staff shares that Laura inquires about other themes or events happening at the residence so she can connect her plans to other lessons or seasonal fun taking place. The thought and time Laura puts into her volunteering goes far beyond her hour-long sessions. It’s abundantly clear from the questions and mentions of her name that she has left a lasting impression on the youngest residents of Sarah Burke House that will live on long after they have left the shelter; one of hopefully many positive memories created during an otherwise difficult time of transition in their young lives.

Flyers created by Laura for her workshops:

“One of the activities she brought was to make our own marble run/roller coaster. There were all girls that day of various patience eves and she just let them explore and figure out how they wanted it to fit together. It was magical to see how each of them pitched in and how Laura guided them to work together. During the build, one of the girls wrote ‘girls work’ for the name of the building company.” 

To learn more about Laura and her work, please join us on April 18th from 6:00-8:00 PM at Pillars of Change.