Quilts and Other Kindnesses
From beds to bridges, groups across the state bring volunteers together for community projects that improve people’s lives—here’s how you can be a part of it
A BED TO SLEEP IN EACH NIGHT. IT SEEMS LIKE SUCH A BASIC NEED, but for many Kentucky children, it is a luxury beyond their grasp. Instead, they try to sleep on air mattresses that deflate during the night, old mattresses infested with bedbugs, in beds they must share with too many others, or on uninsulated floors.
Children who get less sleep than they need have a much higher lifetime risk of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes than those who get enough, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Children ages 5-12 require 10-11 hours of sleep a night, and younger children require even more. Poor or inadequate sleep also leads to mood swings and problems that impair children’s ability to learn in school.
“Many of these children have unimaginably difficult lives during the day,” observes Angela Baldridge, former program director of AmeriCorps’ SUCCESS Corps and co-founder of Build-A-Bed.
“Their lives are affected by poverty, family struggles, educational barriers, and more. We can’t fix all the problems in their lives, but we can help them recover from their hard days, improve their physical and emotional well-being, and increase their chances of success in school by helping them sleep better.”
So one Saturday last May, the weekend kicking off National AmeriCorps Week to be precise, volunteers from across the country—Native Americans from the California Hoopa Valley Tribe, high school and college students, adults of all ages from all walks of life—converged on the Boone National Guard Center in Frankfort with a dream and a goal.
Janie Miller, secretary of Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, expressed the dream in an address to the volunteers that morning: “It’s been said that the best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep. That bridge of hope is what you are providing today for 500 Kentucky children.”
The goal was spread out in front of them in stacks and piles of supplies: Build 500 twin beds from the materials assembled near the helicopter hangar where Black Hawks normally reside. Furnish them with new mattresses and bedding so they could be delivered to children across Kentucky.
The day would be a long one for the 700-plus volunteers, but no one was complaining. A lot of work had preceded theirs. Approximately 2,000 volunteers had already cut 23 tons of lumber into precise lengths; rounded up stuffed animals, toothbrushes, pajamas, and other bedtime essentials; equipped the stations with tools; prepared food and entertainment for the volunteers; and raised funds for mattresses, wood, and other project costs.
Quilting groups from across the country, including the String-A-Long Quilt Guild from West Liberty, had pieced quilts to go on the beds, and a Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) group in Morehead crocheted afghans so the children not only had a warm cover but a handmade one that even money couldn’t buy. They also served as coordinators to collect more than 300 handmade afghans and quilts from volunteer groups across Kentucky for the event.
“It requires everything to come together for us to be successful,” says Baldridge. On this day, she is attached to a clipboard, fielding questions coming at her from all directions, as is Heather Musinski, co-founder of Build-A-Bed and director of the AmeriCorps’ FRYSC Corps (Family Resource and Youth Service Centers). (Musinski has since succeeded Baldridge as director of SUCCESS Corps.)
Like SUCCESS Corps, FRYSC is part of a national organization, in this case AmeriCorps. Although the organizations are national, the goals and projects are typically community-based.
Build-A-Bed was actually a kind of hybrid in 2010, and the event was only the second for the organization. In 2009, Baldridge and Musinski organized the construction of 57 beds under the auspices of AmeriCorps. They thought their idea was a one-time event. But the need was so great and the response so positive that they found themselves heading a similar effort a year later, only this time it had been supersized, going from building 57 beds to 500 beds, and from a few hundred volunteers to more than 2,000.
The Build-A-Bed effort is not solely sponsored by AmeriCorps, as volunteers from Kentucky chapters of numerous national organizations joined in, including AmeriCorps programs—SUCCESS Corps, FRYSC Corps—VISTA, and National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). Volunteers from Senior Corps, which directs the Foster Grandparents program, Senior Companions, and RSVP, also participated. (Go to “Want to Volunteer?” below for more information on these groups and others.)
“We were pretty pleased with the huge community support,” Baldridge says. “There is so much negative news out there. It is just inspiring to see people come together and make such a phenomenal difference.”
The event is also a showcase for how one idea can inspire local chapters of national volunteer organizations to come together for a worthwhile cause.
Baldridge and Musinski discussed the project one day at a meeting of the AmeriCorps State program directors in Kentucky, a meeting that was attended by Sherrie Bennett, an AmeriCorps director at Morehead State University. Bennett later met with Sharon Williams, Retired and Senior Volunteer Programs director at Morehead State University, one of 10 such programs in the state, to talk about working together on the project.
RSVP volunteers regularly help with everything from mentoring schoolchildren, visiting nursing homes and hospitals, soup kitchens, senior centers, and other volunteer needs within their communities in five Kentucky counties (Bath, Menifee, Montgomery, Morgan, and Rowan).
“This is a good opportunity to work together and make it a big event,” Williams recalls thinking. So she told her volunteers about it. They decided to crochet afghans and collect sheet sets.
On the day of the build, several RSVP volunteers made the trek to Frankfort. They spent the day writing thank you notes for people who had made donations. They were joined by others from Morehead, including volunteers from the VISTA program, MSU Corps, and the MSU Center for Regional Engagement. The same scenario was played out with volunteers from other communities.
At the end of that day, 557 beds stood ready to be distributed across Kentucky. A short time and a few more volunteers later, children occupied every single bed, getting the sleep that is essential for their health and their future.
For many of the volunteers, the following week would bring a new and different challenge to help people in need. But first, they wanted a good night’s sleep in their own bed.
Community Bridge Building
In Anderson County, a creek separated the Anderson Public Library from the Early Childhood Center three years ago. This forced very young children from the Center to walk dangerously close to Main Street to get to the library, potentially putting them in harm’s way. Today, a bridge crosses that stream.
Building that bridge connected more than the library and childhood center, according to Darlene Urban, community education director and administrator of Service-Learning grants for Anderson County Schools. It also connected high school and GED students with the community, and the students with a real-world understanding of what they were learning in class.
The 2010 construction was part of Learn and Serve America, a national program that involves more than a million students each year in what’s called service learning—a potent blend of academic and hands-on learning. There are 52 such programs scattered across Kentucky this year, according to Joan Howard, program consultant for the Kentucky Department of Education. Each received a project grant.
In recent years, there has been an array of projects. In Hickman County, for example, students interviewed area veterans and created a booklet. In Garrard County, students also worked with veterans, holding a large assembly at Garrard Middle School to honor them. In northern Kentucky, students served food at a homeless shelter. Another group took samples of well water and then returned to the owners to explain what they needed to do to make their water pure.
Back in Anderson County, a community volunteer whose project was a recipient of a Learn and Serve America mini-grant put on a play—The Surprising Story of the Three Little Pigs—that was cast with schoolchildren from the Anderson County School District and coupled with a literacy project involving the district’s 300 kindergarten students. Later they did a peer tutoring project where older students tutored elementary students who were struggling.
The only commonality between the programs is the tie to Learn and Serve America, which provides small grants that pay for essentials such as transportation and supplies, and a philosophy called PARC—preparation, action, reflection, and celebration—in which all four aspects must be covered in each service-learning project.
Although you won’t find this math in any of the projects, Learn and Serve is a good example of how 1 (learning) + 1 (service) can often equal far more than 2. In Kentucky during the 2010-2011 year, almost 2,300 adults were involved in the projects, the groups completed 219,795 hours of community service, and there were 107,150 adults on the receiving end. That kind of new math works for everyone.
Want to Volunteer?
The need for volunteers is immense, but so are the ways to help, according to Eileen Cackowski, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service (KCCVS).
Whether you have a little time or a lot, no matter your age or interest, there is a group that needs your talent. Listed below are a few good ways to get started with national organizations that have Kentucky chapters. (Go to www.KentuckyLiving.com
and type in “volunteer Kentucky” in the Keyword Search box for a longer list of Kentucky volunteer organizations.)
For more information, go to www.volunteerKY.ky.gov or call (800) 239-7404.
AmeriCorps (sometimes called the domestic Peace Corps) engages volunteers in America in intensive, results-driven service. There are 13 AmeriCorps programs in Kentucky. All are monitored by the KCCVS.
AmeriCorps VISTA is a one-year program for those over 18. VISTA members build the capacity of nonprofit agencies by providing support in the form of fund-raising and volunteer recruitment. VISTA members receive a modest living allowance and the choice of an education award or stipend.
To learn more about AmeriCorps VISTA, contact Betsy Wells at (502) 582-6384 or go online to www.Serve.gov. You can also call (202) 606-5000.
Senior Corps includes three programs in Kentucky:
• Foster Grandparents serve as tutors and mentors to young people with special needs.
• Senior Companions help homebound adults maintain independence in their own homes.
• Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) volunteers (age 55 and older) help local law enforcement make communities safer, tutor and mentor youth, respond to natural disasters, build housing for low-income neighbors, staff front desks at nonprofits, sort food at food banks, deliver hot meals to seniors, and provide many other services.
To learn more, contact Betsy Wells at (502) 582-6384 or go online to www.Serve.gov. You can also call (202) 606-5000.
Learn and Serve America provides grants to schools, colleges, and nonprofit groups to support efforts to engage more than 32,000 Kentucky students in community service linked to academic achievement and the development of civic skills. To learn more visit NationalService.gov, www.Serve.gov, or www.learnandserve.org.
Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service
If you are not sure where you would like to serve, you can contact the KCCVS offices at (502) 564-7420 or (800) 239-7404.
Serving with AmeriCorps
Serving with many of AmeriCorps’ programs is not only personally rewarding but can also be financially rewarding, according to Andrea Sieloff, RSM (Religious Sister of Mercy), program officer with the Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism & Service (KCCVS). AmeriCorps State provides a living allowance of $12,100 for full-time members (those who serve 1,700 hours a year). Those serving 900 hours receive one-half that amount, and those serving 450 hours receive one-fourth.
There are also educational incentives. Full-time members receive an educational award worth $5,550 (the equivalent of a Pell Grant) and there are opportunities for members who serve 900, 450, or 300 hours to receive a proportional amount. There is also a new incentive introduced in 2010. Members 55 and older can designate their educational award to a child or grandchild or foster child. The award simply has to be used within 10 years.
The only requirement is that you be a U.S. citizen who is 18 or older.
Kentucky Volunteer Centers
Here are six volunteer centers tied to various organizations in Kentucky where you can volunteer. They will match your interests and availability with an appropriate group. If you know of a group you are particularly interested in working with, call them directly.
United Way of Greater Cincinnati-
11 Shelby St.
Florence, KY 41042-1612
By phone dial 211 to the helpline for volunteer opportunities, or go online to http://uwgc.volunteermatch.org and key in the zip code for where you’d like to volunteer.
United Way of the Bluegrass
2480 Fortune Drive, Suite 250
Lexington, KY 40509
By phone dial 211 to the helpline for volunteer opportunities, or go online to www.uwbg.org and click “volunteer.”
Community Engagement Coordinator: Tanya Torp
United Way of Franklin County
P.O. Box 1544
Frankfort, KY 40601
Contact: Georgetta Nelson
Metro United Way
334 E. Broadway
P.O. Box 4488
Louisville, KY 40202
Contact: Mary Sullivan
Serves Jefferson, Shelby, Oldham, and Bullitt counties in Kentucky, and Floyd, Clark, and Harrison counties in southern Indiana.
Paducah-McCracken County Retired
and Senior Volunteer Program
1400 H.C. Mathis Dr.
Paducah, KY 42001
Contact: Leslie Prestel
ALIVE Center for Community
At Western Kentucky University
1906 College Heights Blvd. #21095
Bowling Green, KY 42101-1095
Contact: Brittany Ryan
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: To read more Build-A-Bed stories on why kids needed beds, and to learn about 14 other AmeriCorps programs, which you can volunteer for, go to Volunteer Kentucky.