FOND DU LAC – Where?are the children sleeping?
Most parents don’t give it a thought when they tuck?their children into their beds at night, snuggled into?pillows and soft blankets.
But, there are?children in the community — more than you might think?— who?sleep on piles of clothing on the floor, on couches or?huddled together in?beds meant for one person.?
The lack of comfort due to “bed poverty” can cause?sleep disturbance in young children, according to the American Psychological Association,?and?poor sleep is linked to compromised cognitive processing, lower academic achievement and maladaptive school behavior.?
When two Fond du Lac residents, Valerie Graczyk and Tom Otte,?learned of the growing need?for beds and bedding supplies for impoverished youth, both?were compelled into action, each forming different groups.
Graczyk?launched?”Pillow Power! Creating Sweeter Dreams,” to provide pillows, pillowcases and bedtime books for children. Otte started?a local chapter of “Sleep in Heavenly Peace,” a national organization that brings together volunteers to build bunk beds and deliver them to families in need.?
Both are seeking more volunteers, as well as supplies?to help meet the needs.
During a recent presentation to a local group of women, Chegwin Principal Kari Saunders said every?child deserves to have the best sleep possible, and even a pillow, in a pillowcase, would?be a game changer for some of her students, Grazcyk?recalled.?
“When I heard of children without beds, and even a pillow, my heart just opened,” Graczyk said. “I took having a pillow for granted but for some families that just isn’t the case.”
Often children in need are in transition between living situations, Saunders said, and in some cases, are hurriedly pushed out from where they were staying and don’t have the basics. Other kids may be homeless, or sleeping on someone’s couch.
According to 2018-19 data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 44.8% of students in the Fond du Lac School District were considered economically disadvantaged,?about?3,181 students out of an enrollment of 7,100. The department’s latest figure for homeless students in Fond du Lac numbered 143 the year prior.
Along with collecting pillows and pillowcases, Graczyk and her?partner in the?project, Barb Senn, are taking it a step further by?providing?children’s book as well to encourage bedtime reading. Both are members of the Fond du Lac Morning Rotary Club, which funds books for students at Chegwin and Pier Elementary School.?
The next public pillow drop-off and collection is scheduled from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on?June 17,?in front of Fond du Lac Children Museum, 75 W. Scott St., in Fond du Lac.
Financial gifts can be directed to: “Chegwin Children’s Fund” and the money will be divided between both Chegwin and Pier?schools. Checks?can be mailed to: Chegwin Elementary School,?109 E. Merrill Ave., Fond du Lac,?WI 54935. Questions can be?directed to Graczyk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Otte said it was around Christmastime when he offered a twin mattress for free on a local Facebook page. He received multiple requests.
“Upon delivery I was astonished the conditions the kids were sleeping in and this was just a few blocks from my own house and it lit a fire in me,” Otte said. “I did one delivery where a young girl of 12 was sleeping on a dog bed.”
After researching the organization and talking with a former classmate who opened a chapter in Portage, Otte and his wife Christine began making phone calls and organizing a local Sleep in Heavenly Peace chapter. Fond du Lac’s chapter is the 258th nationwide.
The Ottes then traveled to Idaho for three weeks of training with the national organization, founded in 2012 by?Luke and Heidi Mickelson.?
The “builds” bring together between 30 to 60 volunteers who work in two-hour shifts, in assembly-line fashion. There is usually a corporate sponsor for each build, and businesses often send their?employees as volunteers.
The approximate cost to get one child off the floor with lumber, bedding supplies, tools, hardware, storage and delivery is approximately $250.
Drexel Building Supply out of Campbellsport supplied the lumber for the first practice build, and Bob’s Pizza is also a sponsor of the local chapter, helping with storage. Lowe’s is a project partner as well.
A fundraiser is in the?works to raise enough money?to purchase the tools they need, Otte said.
“It’s a lot of fun and simple to do, even 14-year-olds in a boy scout troop could do it,” Otte?said. “We plan to start building beds in the community sometime in August. The motto is: ‘No kid sleeps on the floor in our town.’”
Volunteer Karla Breister has worked with at-risk and homeless populations and knows just how dire some living situations are. She?has seen entire apartments furnished with only a couch and a side table.
“We spend a third of our lives sleeping, and proper rest is incredibly important for children’s growth and development,” Breister said. “Beds are also a perfect spot to heal when you are sick, to hide under the covers when you are scared, to cry into a pillow when you are sad?and to cuddle up and listen to a bedtime story.”?
Anyone?can request a bed, Otte said, be it a parent, social worker, educator, law enforcement.?All?requests remain confidential and the?specific need is then discussed with the family.?
“This is a community driven project and our goal is to build 200 beds a year,” he said. “You can also sign up to be on the delivery team.”
More information is available?on the Sleep in Heavenly Peace, WI-Fond du Lac Facebook page, or visiting the national organization’s website, Fond du Lac page.?Otte can also be reached email@example.com or?920-948-4635.
Contact Sharon Roznik at 920-907-7936 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook at?facebook.com/reporterroz/
RELATED:?Food, fish and fun: Seven things to look out for this Walleye Weekend
RELATED:?Butters is on the run again, and her Fond du Lac family is offering a reward for her safe return