Non­profit of­fers beds for Texas chil­dren

Texarkana Gazette - - STATE - By Emily Burleson

Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

HOUS­TON—Af­ter a long day of tack­ling pint-sized op­po­nents for the North­side Braves foot­ball team, 7-year-old Kevonte' des­per­ately needed a nap. With­out a bed, he passed out on the floor of the near-empty sec­ond bed­room in his mother's apart­ment.

The Hous­ton Chron­i­cle re­ports one room away, his 4-year-old sis­ter, Zanaya, snoozed away on the liv­ing room sofa, af­ter a long day cheer­ing for the Braves from the side­lines on Satur­day.

Kevonte' and Zanaya are ac­cus­tomed to not hav­ing beds. Since out­grow­ing tod­dler beds, now given away to other fam­ily, they've al­ter­nated be­tween sleep­ing on the couch, shar­ing a bed with their mom, or sleep­ing on the floor in front of the TV, sleep­over style.

"We make it fun for them. We've kind of ad­justed to it," their mom, Chiq­uita Henix, said.

Now, Kevonte' and Zanaya will have a new nor­mal: Sleep­ing in bunk beds re­cently in­stalled by vol­un­teers from a new north­west Hous­ton chap­ter of the non­profit Sleep in Heav­enly Peace.

Less than two hours af­ter vol­un­teers started fil­ing through Henix's apart­ment with pieces of the bed, Kevonte' was bask­ing in a new view of his room from the top bunk atop Min­ion­s­themed bed­ding. Be­low, Zanaya was al­ready pre­tend­ing to sleep un­der the striped cov­ers of her bed.

Ear­lier in the day, dozens of vol­un­teers gath­ered at the MET Church near Cypress Creek High School to turn raw lum­ber into more than 30 bed kits. From there, vol­un­teers went out in small groups and de­liv­ered 19 beds to fam­i­lies across Hous­ton.

"I don't think we have a clue of what the need is—this just the tip of the ice­berg," said Gary Akin, the founder and pres­i­dent of the new chap­ter.

Akin first heard about Sleep in Heav­enly Peace on a Face­book show called "Re­turn­ing the Fa­vor," hosted by Mike Rowe of the TV show "Dirty Jobs" fame. Rowe in­ter­viewed the cou­ple who started the non­profit in their garage and pre­sented them with a new head­quar­ters in their home­town of Twin Falls, Idaho.

When that episode first aired in early 2018, Sleep in Heav­enly Peace had 22 chap­ters. More than 8 mil­lion views later, there are 102 chap­ters, with more in the works.

When Akin saw the video seven months ago, he'd been build­ing homes with a lo­cal Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity chap­ter for 25 years. He and a core group of friends worked to­gether there, went on mis­sion trips and found their own projects to work on. Af­ter hur­ri­canes Ka­t­rina, Ike and Har­vey, they re­built dam­aged homes from Beau­mont to Liv­ingston, Louisiana. They called them­selves "Have Tools; Will Travel."

At 81, Akin said he's "less ag­ile on the job site" than he used to be. But beds are eas­ier to build than homes, and he knew his crew would be ex­cited to help with that, too.

"It ties in so well with Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity," he said. "We don't know for sure, but some of us have es­ti­mated that when peo­ple move into a brand-new Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity house, prob­a­bly 60 per­cent of them don't have beds for kids. Hav­ing a house of your own, when you can, and cer­tainly hav­ing a bed of your own—that you can call your own—makes a big dif­fer­ence."

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Cen­ter for Chil­dren in Poverty, about 1 in 5 kids lives be­low the fed­eral poverty line, although the sheer num­ber of kids in poverty de­creased by al­most 3 mil­lion from 2010 to 2016. It's not clear how many of those kids have beds, how­ever.

The re­quire­ments to ap­ply on­line for beds from Sleep in Heav­enly Peace are sim­ple: You must have at least one kid sleep­ing on the floor of your apart­ment or house. It only pro­vides beds for chil­dren up to 17 and the non­profit al­most al­ways works with fam­i­lies.

Akin said he net­works any way he can but mostly re­lies on his church and so­cial me­dia to find fam­i­lies in need of beds. His wife, Nikki Akin, runs the chap­ter's Face­book page.

"Most of the time, I never fail to pass out a brochure, even at the McDon­ald's drive-thru, and ask, 'Who do you know?'" he said.

Chiq­uita Henix learned about Sleep in Heav­enly Peace from Akin him­self in the Wal­mart park­ing lot as she helped Akin load sup­plies into his truck a few weeks ago. Henix thought about their sleep­ing sit­u­a­tion: Six peo­ple and one queen-size bed, which she got for free af­ter Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

Kevonte' and Ze­naya usu­ally shared Henix's bed. In the liv­ing room, her niece slept on the couch dur­ing the day, then swaps with her two daugh­ters when she heads to work the night shift.

They all moved into the apart­ment in July, when Henix started work­ing as a per­sonal shop­per at Wal­mart. Be­fore that, she was sea­sonal at an Ama­zon ware­house, but af­ter the hol­i­days, the only open full-time po­si­tions were night shifts. They were evicted and bounced around be­fore find­ing the new place.

Henix's friend bought her a mi­crowave, and her sis­ter do­nated a kitchen ta­ble. No one of­fered to give her beds for the kids, so their room sat empty. She planned to use their tax re­fund to buy some, but that was at least five months away.

Henix asked Akin if she could ap­ply.

Amanda and Randy Byer, a League City cou­ple with six chil­dren, were among the vol­un­teers at Akin's chap­ter's build day on a re­cent Satur­day. They're start­ing an­other chap­ter of Sleep in Heav­enly Peace that will serve south­east Hous­ton, in­clud­ing Galve­ston, Bay­town and Alvin.

That will be the third one serv­ing the Hous­ton area. The first serves the Spring and Cypress ar­eas.

When they watched Rowe's "Re­turn­ing the Fa­vor" video, they wept, Randy Byer said.

As a con­trac­tor, Byer has been busy since Hur­ri­cane Har­vey re­pair­ing homes and busi­nesses. De­mand is still ex­tremely high a year af­ter the storm, he said.

"There's so many homes I'm go­ing to that haven't even been started yet," Byer said. "You have a fam­ily of four or five and they only have one bed, and kids are sleep­ing on the floor."

As­so­ci­ated Press

■ Dozens of vol­un­teers cut, mark, sand and drill dur­ing the sec­ond bunk bed build of the North­west Hous­ton Chap­ter of the Sleep in Heav­enly Peace or­ga­ni­za­tion on Sept. 8 in Hous­ton.

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