Bedtime story comes true for children without beds

Date Posted: 9/22/2022



By Lindsay Peyton
 
Once upon a time, a fairy tale took the stage at FUMC Beaumont, with a magical cast dreamed up by chancel choir director Renee Kloes. As curtains rose for “Into the Woods,” the main prop shone in the spotlight – a bed, constructed by the local chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP). The national nonprofit’s mission is to provide beds for children who do not have their own.
 
The production had two shows on Aug. 20. Instead of buying tickets, guests were asked to consider a donation to SHP. The chapter’s founder, Jack Seeley, also a longtime member of FUMC Beaumont, opened each performance.
 
“Some of you are here to support good music, and some of you are here to support SHP,” Kloes recalled Seeley's introduction. “I hope at the end of this when you leave, you’re not only happy that you came to support the music, but happy that you have supported SHP as well.”
 
“I do think that happened,” Kloes said. “Not only was it a financial success, but it was also about raising awareness.”
 
The idea to mount the production came on Nov. 26, 2021, the day that lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim died. Kloes, who retired after decades as choir director at Nederland High School, received a text from one of her former students. “You always said that we’d do ‘Into the Woods,’” the note read.


 
Kloes had started the tradition of an annual musical performance at the school, but she deemed Sondheim’s work too difficult for her teenage students. Now that they had graduated, she thought it might be the time to honor the man credited with reinvigorating the musical.
 
“Let’s put it on the front burner,” Kloes told her former student. “Let’s do something about it.”
 
Before long, she had assembled a few other alumni and began brainstorming. But something was missing. “We have to have a reason for doing this,” she said.
 
Play is a bedtime story

That’s when her daughter entered the conversation. The show is basically a bedtime story, she pointed out. Why not tie in a nonprofit that builds beds?
 
Kloes called Seeley right away. She clearly remembered when he started the Beaumont chapter of SHP in 2019. He stood up in church and explained that children were sleeping on the floor, on couches or with siblings. SHP chapters built beds and delivered them at no cost to families in need.



His presentation made a strong impression on Kloes, who later learned that many of her own students did not have beds of their own. She was convinced that honoring SHP’s work was the perfect reason to host a musical.
 
Kloes asked Seeley to meet her after church on Sunday. “I will tell you my idea, and you can say ‘no,’” she told him.
 
Seeley admitted to being unfamiliar with both the composer and the production. The idea of a fundraiser, however, was appealing. The need for beds was great – and only growing, he explained.
 
Kloes was concerned that they could raise enough money to even build one bed, which amounts to about $250. The idea was in its earliest phases, and she was uncertain how many would attend a concert on a summer Saturday night at the church. But Seeley’s words were encouraging.
 
“He said, ‘Sometimes you’ve just got to build some momentum,’” Kloes recalled. She replied, “Let’s see what we can do.”
 
Staging a show
 
Kloes started calling performers who could tackle the complexities of Sondheim’s compositions. She found talented members of the church, former students and community members who rose to the challenge.
 
The cast drew from around southeast Texas. They only had a handful of weekends to rehearse.
 
“Not a single one had heard about SHP,” Kloes said. “I explained it to each one.”
 
Once the musicians and actors learned about the cause, they were fully committed. In fact, they agreed to cover the cost of royalties for performing the show themselves, making it possible for 100% of the proceeds to go to SHP.
 
Word about the lively rehearsals spread around Beaumont and beyond. Several members from the Symphony of Southeast Texas offered to join the production.
 
FUMC Beaumont agreed to serve as a venue. At first, Kloes asked if they could host the show in the fellowship hall. Organist Janie Greenway insisted they use the sanctuary instead, saying, “That’s where the good sound is.”
 
Seeley and SHP volunteers built four small bunks, models of the beds they construct for children year-round. They were raffled during intermission.
 
Instead of 50 people Kloes had first anticipated, she was pleasantly surprised to find about 100 faces in the audience – at both the matinee and evening performances. By the final curtain, more than $5,300 was raised. 


 
“It was just great,” Kloes said. “I don’t know if it could ever be repeated. It was a great cause, great people, and the support – I was totally blown away.”
 
Seeley agreed, “It was fantastic.”
 
A good night’s sleep for children in need
 
Seeley explained that SHP began with a single good deed. After Idaho resident Luke Mickelson built a bed for a child who did not have one in 2012, he received more requests. Mickelson then built 11 beds in his garage, and another 15 the following year.
 
Before long, the numbers soared into the hundreds, and Mickelson formed a nonprofit to respond to the call. Today, there are about 300 chapters across the U.S., in Canada, Bermuda and the Bahamas. As of February, more than 100,000 beds have been constructed and delivered to children in need.


 
Seeley learned about the organization when his friend Gary Akin started a chapter in northwest Houston in September 2018. Seeley has spent his life in the construction industry, owned his own company and was a regular volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.
 
Seeing Akin’s operation building beds was a game changer. “I was ready to set up shop the next day,” he recalled. “But I knew I needed to get my wife on board.”
 
Charlotte agreed to go on a build with him – and together, they joined the SHP chapter, which would become the first in the Houston area, in action. After constructing the beds, they delivered eight to one house.
 
“The family had fallen on hard times, and the eight children were either on the floor or sharing a larger, sectional couch,” Seeley recalled. “On the way home, I asked my wife, ‘What do you think?’ She said, ‘We need to do this.’”
 
The next step was seeking guidance from his pastor, Rev. Jon Stouffer. Seeley described the nonprofit and posed the same question, “What do you think?” Then, Stouffer answered just like Charlotte. “We need to do this,” he said.
 
FUMC Beaumont allowed them to use the church annex to get started, and Seeley attended the SHP training in 2019. When the chapter outgrew the space, Seeley spoke about the need for more room with a men’s group at a local Catholic church. “A commercial realtor was in the crowd,” he recalled.
 
Not only did the man help locate a 4,000-square-foot building, but the group also pledged to cover the rent for the first three years. The space has ample room for the assembly line construction process, as well as storage of bedclothes and pillows.


 
Seeley explained that families apply for a bed on the SHP website. To qualify, children must be between ages 3 and 17 and sleep on the floor or a couch or share a bed.
 
Chapters respond to the approved applications in their service area. The Beaumont chapter holds a build day each month to construct beds, following a simple template that produces twin-size frames, which can be joined as bunks.


 
Then, the following week, the chapter delivers the beds, paired with a mattress and bedclothes to the homes.
 
Lending a hand
 
Volunteers are needed each step of the way, Seeley said. Donations are also critical, especially now, he explained. “When we started out, it cost about $150 for each bed,” he said.
 
With supply chain issues and increasing costs of lumber and mattresses, costs are now $250 per bed. In addition, the three years of free rent have expired.
 
The number of requests for beds continues to rise, and the Beaumont chapter responds to requests chronologically. Currently, Seeley said there are 300 beds on the waiting list. “We can’t begin to catch up, but that’s what we started this for,” he explained.
 
Seeley explained that the amount of children sleeping on the floor is difficult to calculate. It’s estimated that about 2% to 3% of the population of children in the U.S. do not have beds of their own, he said. According to the last census, that would mean 8,000 kids in the area are in need.
 
But not having beds for your children is a sensitive topic that parents might not want to share, Seeley added. He believes the need could be even greater.
 
Seeley was raised on a dairy farm in New York state. He said that in a rural community if a neighbor is sick or in need, “you step in, you take care of the animals, you help with the harvest or plant a crop. You don’t expect anything in return.”
 
And that’s the same spirit behind SHP. It’s also a way for Seeley to put his faith into action.


 
“My passion is building things, and I’m a self-professed workaholic,” he said with a laugh. “This satisfies my need to build and my need to help people who need help.”
 
Kloes said that SHP has become Seeley’s full-time job since he retired last year. “Jack, I just admire him so much,” she explained. “He pinpointed a way that he could make a difference, and he’s just attacking it relentlessly. He’s amazing.”


 
Seeley invites others to join SHP in the effort. He said there are a number of chapters throughout Texas – all needing volunteers and support. “And if you’re in an area that does not have a chapter, think about starting one,” he said.
 
For more information, visit shpbeds.org.