For many, sleeping in a bed is a basic comfort and an assumed part of everyday living. However, across the United States including in Ottawa County, many children go without a bed or even a pillow to sleep on. Learning this from a Facebook post by a former student was very concerning to Kathy Kreps who is a paraprofessional at Ottawa Area ISD’s Careerline Tech Center and helps expose high school students to different career opportunities and ways to be contributing members of their community through volunteering.
“Giving back to the community is a part of all Tech Center programs,” Kathy says. “When I saw a former student, who works with the national non-profit organization Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP), post on Facebook about the number of children in Ottawa County without a bed, I knew this was a great opportunity for our students to gain a new set of skills and help the community at the same time.”
Through the Career Learning Center program at Careerline Tech Center, students work and explore careers through paid or unpaid experiences that lead to success after high school. Included in the curriculum are trade skills along with the opportunity to earn certifications such as OSHA, ServSafe and Customer Service.
Kathy and program instructor John Boersma reached out to, Sleep in Heavenly Peace, and learned how students in their program could gain new skills and give back to the community by helping to assemble beds.
“The students were initially a bit curious that our way to give back was building beds,” John says. “They were surprised there were so many kids who didn’t have beds of their own and were eager to help. They immediately jumped on board.”
The program hadn’t previously taken on a project this large so they worked with another Ottawa Area ISD entity, Thompson M-TEC, to use space and tools there. Sleep in Heavenly Peace coordinated material ordering and drop off and then the students were ready to start building beds.
SHP set up stations and streamlined the process allowing students to experience every involved skill including operating a drill press and miter saw, basic measuring, pocket hole drilling, staining, sanding with sanders, and staging materials, leading to the finished product.
“Our students got really dusty and dirty,” Kathy says. “And they loved it. Many told me they didn’t mind the dirt because they knew the end result was a little kid getting a real bed. They were so proud of themselves that they were able to make 12 beds that stayed in our community.”
Working with SHP helped students with hands-on experience in trade skills as well as soft skills including communication, time management, teamwork, interpersonal relationships, and meeting deadlines.
Lisa Ghiardi, Chapter President for Sleep in Heavenly Peace Holland Chapter, says she was so impressed by the interest of the students. “They were offering to help with other builds, and to help with events that we may have in the future. They jumped right in and took pride with the work they were doing and had fun while building.”
Kathy says this was an eye-opening experience for students who aren’t always aware of what is happening in their community, both positive and negative. “This is a transformational piece they can identify with because it is happening in their own community and with their peers.”
“Our students learned a great deal skillwise and philanthropically,” Kathy says. “Many are looking forward to helping with SHP beds on their own time which is a heartwarming experience for John and me. We love our jobs. “
“I felt like I was really doing something and making a difference.” —Rick Blauwkamp, bus driver
“Getting kids outside the classroom positively impacts their learning, gets them engaged and encapsulates all the learning styles.” —Shelly Hammond, Ferry and Voyager principal