A Family Legacy of Giving at Daybreak Homeless Shelter in Lawrence


Tom Duggan (04-24)

There’s a new worker at the Daybreak Homeless shelter in Lawrence and while his surname is quite familiar to those who have been there a while, his youth and enthusiasm make him a valuable member of the team at the Daybreak homeless shelter on Winter Street in Lawrence.

Meet Mike Pappalardo, the 18-year-old college student from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell who has been coming to Daybreak with his mom since he was a kid, a mom who is now the CEO of the Greater Lawrence Psychological Center which oversees the operations at Daybreak.

“I used to come in with my mom all the time and I was always fascinated by what was going on here,” Pappalardo told The Valley Patriot. “Now I get to come back and actually work here and I love it.”

The Daybreak shelter is one of two “wet shelters” in the state, meaning that homeless individuals will not be turned away if they show up high or intoxicated. The shelter is a rickety combination of two trailers soldered together holding a capacity of about 55 people each night.

“The thing I love most about this job is making connections with people. You know, some of them (the homeless) feel like they are ignored on the streets, like they are invisible. When they come here, though, it’s like home for them. You get to know them, what their story is, why they are where they are in life. That connection with them is really important. It’s the one thing we see that motivates some of them to try harder, knowing someone is rooting for them.”

Pappalardo says it’s the environment at Daybreak that makes it different from most other shelters. “It’s nice, everyone from the staff to the guest, the volunteers, everyone is friendly and helpful so it doesn’t really feel like work.”

“When I come in every day, I usually try to start off by helping clean and do whatever tasks need to be taken care of. Sometimes it’s doing dishes, laundry, sweeping, fixing something that has broken, or just talking to guests and checking people in. Sometimes, depending on who’s here I will do the dinners and set up the kitchen, put out coffee and juice.”

Pappalardo, who is only 18 years old, says that helping people is why he keeps coming back.

“I don’t even really think of them as homeless; they are just people who need a little help, and talking to them about what they need and how we can find creative ways to fulfill those needs is a challenge that makes the job interesting and different every day.”

Pappalardo is majoring in finance in college and says that one of the things he likes about Daybreak is the availability of different programs for the guests. We help them get into detox if they have addiction problems, we have a program for job training and some guests come in and do so well they qualify for an apartment.

“I love that,” he says. “Watching some of the guests move on and move out to their own place, working in a steady job after spending a lot of time thinking life was hopeless. It’s motivating. But, it doesn’t just motivate the other guests to see someone moving on, but it motivates me too. I learn a lot about people, and hope, and never giving up.”

Pappalardo says that Daybreak is like a “big family.”

“From the minute you come in you see people helping out with chores, taking out the trash, cleaning the dorms, there’s a sense of pride here that you wouldn’t expect at a homeless shelter. I think that’s why there are so many success stories here.”

Pappalardo says the newest addition to the Daybreak program roster is the street outreach team.

“Our new outreach program is when the team goes out into the community to try and get some of the homeless to come in from the streets. They offer services like getting people into detox, bringing them clothes and food and blankets if they aren’t ready to come in from the streets.”

“You know, it sounds weird, but some people don’t want to come into the shelter. So, they try to build a relationship with them and let them know we are here when they are ready.”

The Gr. Lawrence Psychological Center is holding a fundraiser on Saturday May 4th, called “Diamonds are for Derby” to raise money for Daybreak, Pegasus House, and Women’s View Programs. Get your tickets at PsychologicalCenter.com. ◊