Smoke wafted up from the wood as 14-year-old Hayden Hicho used a heated branding tool to mark the ends of a bed with the Sleep in Heavenly Peace “SHP” logo.
Hayden worked under the supervision of Karin DuBois, president of the Harford County chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace. The nonprofit organization, which has chapters all over the U.S., brings together volunteers to build wooden children’s beds for families in need.
Hayden, who lives in Bel Air and is in the eighth grade at Southampton Middle School, was one of about 80 volunteers who participated in the Harford chapter’s first bed build of 2019 on Saturday.
“It’s a fun time, and it’s good to give back to the community,” he said. Hayden described working on the build as “a fun experience, and it was satisfying.”
The event was held in donated commercial space in the Bel Air Town Center shopping center. The volunteers worked inside at multiple stations, sanding wood that had been cut the night before; assembling long side rails for the beds and the head and foot panels; using drill presses to put holes in the various boards; even treating the wood at a “dipping station” by dipping the components and then brushing them with a mix made from vinegar and steel wool.
The head and foot panels were stacked in a rear lot outside where they were branded before being placed in a delivery truck, which had been donated by local business Bartenfelder Landscape Service.
The wood and tools had also been donated — DeWalt provided $5,000 worth of power tools for the chapter to use, according to DuBois. Members of the Joppatowne Lions Club grilled hot dogs and hamburgers for the volunteers’ lunch.
DuBois said there were more volunteers than expected, and she had to turn some people away. Saturday’s turnout was the largest ever for a Harford County build.
“The word is finally getting out there; I’m excited,” she said.
The Harford County chapter, the first in Maryland, was founded in August 2017, and 101 beds were built and delivered in 2018. DuBois has a goal of 200 beds for 2019, she said.
The chapter holds builds about once a month, depending on donations. The next build will be in February with members of the Society of Italian-American Businessmen and Harford County Republican Women. While most builds are open for anyone to volunteer, the upcoming build, on Feb. 23, is private for the two organizations, according to DuBois.
Sleep in Heavenly Peace, which was founded in Idaho, has 126 chapters around the country, according to its website, and it continues to expand. New chapters have been formed in Maryland in Baltimore, Frederick and Howard counties.
Lou Stavely, president of the Frederick County chapter, participated in the Saturday build in Bel Air. He expects his chapter will hold its first build this spring.
Stavely said he has been volunteering with the Harford chapter for about six months. He said he is retired and has been blessed with good health, so he needs to do something “to help the community out, somehow.”
“There are kids out there that need beds,” Stavely said.
The beds, which can be used as single beds or combined into bunk beds, are meant for families that need beds for their children but cannot afford them, according to DuBois. She said she has seen children sleeping on towels or rolled-up blankets. Families receive a new bed frame, which is assembled during delivery, along with a new mattress and bedding.
The new mattresses and bedding are donated as well — DuBois pointed out a handmade quilt on top of a pile of bedding, one of a number that have been made for donation by a woman in Pennsylvania.
“These kids are getting something that’s never been used, that’s theirs to call their own,” DuBois said.
Visit the Sleep in Heavenly Peace-Harford County page on Facebook for more information about volunteering. Visit https://www.shpbeds.org to request a bed.
Volunteer Andrew Johnson, of Airville, Pennsylvania, has participated in about eight bed builds. He worked Saturday with Joppatowne High School students Jade Passas and Avono Washington, putting together the end pieces for the beds.
Johnson said it is fun to work with new people on the builds, to teach young people “how to work with tools properly and build things.” He works as a phone and data technician at the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in Delta, Pennsylvania, and he has done some carpentry work in the past.
The greatest rewards for him have come through deliveries, though.
“Once you make a delivery and you get to see the kids’ faces, it’s addicting after that,” Johnson said.
Linda Ciamarra, of Bel Air, worked a drill bit while her boyfriend, Bobby Poulin, of Columbia, held the boards.
Ciamarra said the experience of working with power tools was “new and different.” It was familiar at the same time, though, as the drill press projected red lasers on the exact spot where she should drill holes. She said she works as a radiation therapist, using lasers to pinpoint areas when treating tumors in cancer patients.
“You have to be very accurate,” she said. “Those lasers have to line up right.”
Poulin has worked as a handyman and is currently a construction consultant.
“It’s nice to be able to share my knowledge with people that have never done this kind of work before,” he said.
Poulin said organizers made the construction process simple, “so pretty much anybody can help, no matter their skill level.”
A number of local young people participated in the build — anyone ages 12 and older can volunteer, according to DuBois.
Hayden Hicho, who branded the beds, was among 12 youth members of the Volun-Teen community service organization at the build. He and his compatriots branded the beds and performed several other jobs, such as bringing finished pieces out for branding and helping to load the truck.
Founder Brooke Hopkins, of Bel Air, said there are about 40 to 50 boys and girls in her organization, which is open to anyone 13 and older. Members volunteer with a different nonprofit group each month.
Her 13-year-old son, Drew Evans, was part of the group that volunteered Saturday.
“It was fun, it’s nice to give back to the community, for kids who don’t have beds,” the Southampton Middle School student said.
A number of Joppa-Magnolia Leo Club members also took part in the build. The Leos are a youth service organization, open to ages 12 to 18, and affiliated with Lions Clubs International, according to Rich Bennett, president of the Joppatowne Lions Club.
Leo members Amelia Carroll and Abigail VanHorn, both 13 and students at Magnolia Middle School, used handheld power sanders to smooth long boards for side rails.
Both girls said they enjoyed working with their hands and using the power tools. Saturday was their first time working with Sleep in Heavenly Peace.
“I feel like I’m doing something for a great cause,” Amelia said.
Joppatowne High student and Leo Club member Avono Washington, who helped screw bed ends together using power drills, said he does “this kind of work all the time.”
Avono, 17, said he works with his grandfather, who is a carpenter and a mechanic. He said he enjoyed helping Sleep in Heavenly Peace.
“There’s a lot of single moms out there that have a little bit of money but not enough to take care of their kids or buy the stuff that they need,” he said.
His fellow Mariner and Leo member, Jade Passas, said she enjoyed her experience, too.
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“It’s heartwarming knowing that we’re helping a lot of families out and getting little children off the floor,” said Jade, 16. “I would love to do this again; it’s a very good thing that a lot of people came.”