Last night, 1,000 children went to sleep homeless in the city of Dallas.

According to the 1990 Census, more than 3,000 adults and 1,000 children are counted homeless in Dallas any given night.

The Interfaith Housing Coalition has been helping move children and their parents from homelessness to self-sufficiency for more than 10 years. This nonprofit agency does so by providing three-month transitional housing to families who want to start over.

Most of the families are made up of single mothers, ages 20 to 30, with children. Interfaith not only provides an apartment for each family, but also teaches job search, budgeting and living skills classes. In addition, the agency offers a comprehensive children’s program, which includes tutoring, activities and counseling.

John Bell is one of Interfaith’s most faithful after-school volunteers, who became involved after reading a newspaper article about the agency. An experienced volunteer, Bell also has worked with students at Dallas Can! Academy and Literacy Instruction for Texas.

Two days a week, this neighborhood resident and retired pediatric dentist spends his afternoons with the children at Interfaith, helping them with homework, playing ball and sometimes, just listening.

“My career was spent communicating with kids so volunteering here is a natural fit,” Bell says.

He doesn’t just help during the after-school program, however. On weekends, he has taken kids everywhere from McDonald’s to Reunion Tower to ride on the elevator. They’ve visited museums at Fair Park, hunted for Easter eggs and taken a swim.

Bell says he enjoys introducing the children to new experiences and helping them overcome challenges – whether that challenge is completing a math assignment or catching a football. Bell taught one six-year-old who had never even held a football how to catch one.

“When Nicholas finally caught the ball, he just beamed,” Bell says. “You’d think he’d been in the Olympics and won. It’s really the smallest things that give them the biggest joy.”

Since the families stay at Interfaith for only 90 days, it can be difficult to see the children leave so soon after getting to know them. Bell says his faith motivates him to spend time with these children even though he knows he may never see them again.

“As an Interfaith volunteer, I’m given the chance to give these kids exposure to something completely good and different,” Bell says. “You’ve just got to trust that God will take care of them.”

More volunteers are needed to work one-on-one with elementary school students during the after-school program, Mondays through Thursdays from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. No teaching experience is required, only a desire to help children learn.

Volunteers also are needed evenings to help care for infants and toddlers while their parents attend employment, budgeting and other classes. In addition, volunteers are needed to help conduct these classes. For information about these and other volunteer opportunities, call the Volunteer Center of Dallas at 826-6767.