Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter
May 5, 2023 // Diocese

A Good Night’s Sleep Gets New Meaning in Michiana

Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter

Home is the place you hang your hat, where the kitchen emulates the smells of grandma’s famous cookies, laughter is found around the dining room table, and the safety zone filled with love. At home when the day ends, young children are carried off to bed by mom or dad followed by bedtime stories and nightly prayers. Warm, comfy beds are the key to a good night’s sleep necessary to help children grow, stay healthy, and be refreshed for the journey ahead.

Imagine a life without that security or a warm bed to sleep in at night. Recently, it was discovered that a family of nine was found sleeping and living in a van. Night after night, the family struggled to stay warm, safe, and comfortable.

Photos by Lisa Kochanowski
Dan Florin, Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend, and his wife Kelly spent the morning on Saturday, April 29, in South Bend sanding boards for the building of beds for children in need.

This discovery of a family’s despair was the dawning of a collaboration between Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Sleep in Heavenly Peace, the Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley, and 1st Source Bank. These mission-driven groups came together for a Build-a-Bed project that resulted in 170 volunteers building 115 beds for children ages 2-17 in Michiana.

With a mission to serve all those in need as Christ calls us to do, the team sprang into action to find a solution to solve the family’s plight. The first obstacle was securing a safe living space. Once that feat was accomplished, the team began working on beds for the family to get a good night’s sleep.

More than 120 volunteers spent the day building 115 beds for children in need during the first Build-A-Bed in South Bend.

According to Catholic Charities Chief Executive Officer Dan Florin, Kellie Porter, the Vice President of the West Region, spent hours searching for sleeping options. She found “Sleep in Heavenly Peace,” an organization dedicated to building, assembling, and delivering quality beds to children and families in need. The organization doesn’t have a South Bend chapter but was willing to pull together chapters from LaGrange and Elkhart in Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky to hold a build and explore the possibility of starting a South Bend chapter.

“By the grace of God, this all came together,” said Florin.

JP Wilson, Senior Director of Operations for Sleep in Heavenly Sleep, said the organization is a group of volunteers dedicated to building, assembling, and delivering quality beds to children and families in need. They have roughly 280 chapters across the country and hope to add 100 more chapters this year. The lack of a bed forces children to sleep on couches, blankets, floors, and even in cars, which can affect health and happiness.

“Since May of last year, we had 82,000 beds requested but were unable to fill all the requests because we don’t have enough chapters,” noted Wilson. “There’s zero reason in this country why a kid shouldn’t have a bed.”

When finding a solution to sleeping arrangements was settled, the next challenge was finding an opportunity to recruit volunteers for a build. With a goal of building 150 beds, it was going to take an army.

Connections were made with the Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley and the group identified Catholic Charities as a project site for the inaugural Notre Dame Global Day of Service on Saturday, April 29. The day was created for Notre Dame students, alumni, parents, and friends around the world to serve and volunteer in their local communities, being a force of good and improving a world greatly in need.

“This is an exciting event, and we are glad to be part of this event with Catholic Charities and Sleep in Heavenly Peace. It’s important to recognize that anyone can make a difference for those in need in our community,” said Annie Envall-Latowski, Service and Grotto Prayer Program Director of the Alumni Association. “It’s a privilege to be part of an event that is going to impact so many young lives.”

Globally, the day encompassed 160 events worldwide. Locally, more than 120 volunteers participated.

“We are so thrilled to have so many things happening around the globe,” said Dan Allen, Associate Director of Spirit/Service with the Notre Dame Alumni Association. He said he is grateful for the opportunity to give back to the community where the University of Notre Dame is located and a place alumni called home for many years.

“Today, we’re building beds for people who don’t have anywhere to sleep,” said Dolly Duffy, Executive Director of the Notre Dame Alumni Association. She noted that she is a bed person and that her kids are always teasing her about it. After this experience, she is going to look at her bed and sleeping arrangements differently, remembering how blessed she is for this necessary comfort. “Service and giving back in any way people can is important.”

Each bed costs $250, which includes the materials to make the frame structure, the mattress, and the bedding. The 1st Source Foundation was a presenting sponsor and also brought a crew to physically assist in the building process.

“It’s a great opportunity for the community to come together,” said Christopher J. Murphy, III, Chairman and CEO of 1st Source Bank. He felt this project was in perfect alignment with the foundation’s mission of working to enhance and strengthen the social, economic, and cultural fabric of the community, helping to improve the quality of life for all those in the community. “We are blessed to be part of this opportunity. You can’t have a good life without a good bed and a good night’s sleep.”

Other sponsors included the South Bend Cubs, Sibley Machine, and KIL Architects. When the weather became an issue, Kevin Smith generously offered the use of the Union Station Renaissance District building for the set-up of the assembly line of workers building the beds.

The beds will be stored with different chapters and distributed with the assistance of Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

“It’s a beautiful thing. I’m proud to be part of this community,” said Florin about the experience. “I hope people look back at this time and remember it as one of the best days they ever had.”

“These moments build community,” said Wilson, who hopes that more events like this happen nationwide.

“God has blessed us to get us in the center of people’s lives,” said Murphy, who is proud his organization could be part of such an amazing community outreach.

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