St. Stephen, NDHS youth take part in bed build

Young volunteers and their families make 50 beds for the Sleep in Heavenly Peace charity to help the needy 

By Dan McWilliams

Youth from St. Stephen Parish and Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga came together July 10 to help children in need who don’t have a bed to sleep on.

Working on behalf of the Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP) charity, the young people and adult volunteers made 50 beds in the St. Stephen parking lot.

Volunteer Nancy Stott sports a T-shirt with the Sleep in Heavenly Peace motto at the bed build.

“Our youth group is small and just getting started. We have about 11-15 currently that come faithfully every week for class,” said Karen Underwood, coordinator of religious education for St. Stephen. “I believe about six were here that morning, and about four or five Notre Dame families came to fill service-hour requirements. They had also had [a bed build] at the school last fall. We had been advertising to the parish about it as well, and we had many families from our parish that participated with their children. I think we had about 60 total. It was a great turnout!”

SHP is a nationwide nonprofit charity, but individuals can ask to start a chapter in their own town, Mrs. Underwood said.

“Bob Hirschi started the one that is based here in Chattanooga, and Betsy Childress is his No. 1 assistant and the community liaison,” she said. “He started in February of 2019. They have delivered 1,600 beds and have built 1,900. Those needing beds go online and submit their request. There is a website with more info [www.shpbeds.org/chapter/tn-chattanooga], and they have a Facebook page as well. People from the Chattanooga area submit a request on the Chattanooga chapter SHP page for beds, and there is a process for approval. They are only delivered to those in our area.”

SHP “provides the bed frame, mattress, and bedding,” said St. Stephen youth leader Ashlee Mikell. “They partner with other organizations such as local churches, schools, and businesses to raise the funds for the beds and then help for a day to build the frames. SHP purchases the supplies, and then the organization, such as our youth group, helps with the assembly line of building the beds. After the beds are built, the SHP team delivers and sets up the beds at the homes of those children needing beds.”

Cirinia Ramirez drills into a piece of wood as her daughter Samara watches.

Mrs. Mikell said the St. Stephen effort helped fulfill a need for SHP.

“When SHP was at our build, they stated they needed 125 beds currently for the requests in the Chattanooga area,” she said. “After a family submits a request for a bed, they receive a visit from SHP to determine the need, and then they are added to a list for a bed. At our bed build, we were able to supply and assemble the frames for 50 of those beds. We raised over $12,000 as a group via help from our parish. We tabled at Masses, advertised in the bulletin, and spread the word to our parishioners at St. Stephen’s. We are very thankful for the impact this will have on letting so many kids in our area get a good night’s rest in their own bed. SHP said the most beds they have delivered to one house at a time is eight—it is crazy to think that much of a need exists within our community.”

Ms. Childress was pleased with the St. Stephen bed build.

“The assistant, Betsy, told me several times she thinks this was the most efficient build they have had,” Mrs. Underwood said.

Notre Dame students Larry Johnson (left) and Carlo Salenda, joined by Carlo’s father, Marco, take a turn with drills at the bed build.

According to SHP’s website, “All children deserve a safe, comfortable place to lay their heads. . . . Across the U.S., too many boys and girls go without a bed—or even a pillow—to sleep on. These children end up sleeping on couches, blankets, and even floors. This can affect their happiness and health. That’s where Sleep in Heavenly Peace comes in. We’re a group of volunteers dedicated to building, assembling, and delivering top-notch bunk beds to children and families in need. Our organization has grown steadily over time, and we’re working on opening more chapters in different states to serve more people. So many great charities provide clothing, meals, and toys to families in need. But as wonderful as this aid is, few organizations offer suitable beds and bedding to the kids in these families.

“At SHP, we fully believe that a bed is a basic need for the proper physical, emotional, and mental support that a child needs. When it was brought to our attention that the need for beds went far beyond our own neighborhoods, we stepped up and took initiative. We’re a national organization answering the call to a national problem.”

SHP’s motto is “No kid sleeps on the floor in our town.”

“I have been involved with this ministry almost since it began and have been a ‘helper’ during several builds and have delivered beds as well,” Mrs. Underwood said. “Since it is dear to me, I was very proud to have our parish participate in and enjoy this ministry for our own community. I feel it is very important to have the youth involved in many different ministries so they can discern where their talents lie.”

Maggie Hirschi (left) helps place a Sleep in Heavenly Peace “SHP” stamp on the woodwork of a bed. Maggie’s father is Bob Hirschi, founder of the Chattanooga SHP chapter.

Mrs. Mikell said “it means a lot to myself and my fellow youth leaders for us to be able to do this with the youth from our parish. One of our big focuses as a youth group is about serving our community. This past year we’ve been able to complete a couple of service projects focusing on the homeless, elderly, and now children with the bed build. I think this especially means a lot because some of the kids who receive the beds aren’t that much younger than some of the youth in our program.

“We have a great group of caring kids who understand what it means to give to others. With this project, we were able to engage both the youth and their families, which adds another dynamic to serving others when you do it to together. We feel this was a great opportunity for the parish to see our engagement with the community as well. I think that the members of St. Stephen’s are proud of the youth and all that they were able to give with SHP.”

Mrs. Mikell said St. Stephen parishioners deserve a shout-out as well as the youth.

“We are so thankful for the engagement in the bed build from our parish as well,” she said. “Being able to build 50 beds with the help of 70 people could not have been accomplished without lots of help from the youth group, St. Stephen parishioners, and students from Notre Dame High School. We hope to have the opportunity to work with SHP again in the future and let more children enjoy a good night’s rest in their own bed!”

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