GLIDE — J.P. Wilson of Glide had been hearing sermons in church about the importance of finding a spiritual mission. So he’d been thinking and praying a lot about that, when one night at 1:30 in the morning he ran across an online show featuring Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame.
This show was called ”Returning the Favor,” and the episode featured a nonprofit Idaho-based organization called Sleep in Heavenly Peace. The organization builds beds for kids who don’t have them.
“I clicked on it, and it was like a light went off, and it was like there you go, there it is,” Wilson said.
Wilson decided to start a Glide chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace.
Wilson went to Twin Falls, Idaho, where the nonprofit is based, to join other chapter presidents in a weekend training, which included making deliveries to kids. He remembers one little girl, about 3 years old, just beaming as she jumped up onto her new bunk bed, and he knew the three grown men who were with him were hiding tears behind their sunglasses. So was he.
Once you make one of these deliveries, he said, you’re hooked.
J.P. and his wife Kim Wilson delivered their chapter’s first bunk bed on Mother’s Day, to a Winston family with two little boys. They’ve built two of the wooden bunk beds in their garage. One is ready for delivery to a Sutherlin family in need.
Now, the Wilsons are looking for volunteers and donations to keep the program going.
J.P. Wilson said there are other organizations that offer food and shelter for people who need them, but this is the only one that offers a bed.
The recipients of the beds are kids who are sleeping on mattresses or air mattresses on the floor. It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep under those circumstances, and J.P. Wilson said that makes a big difference in a kid’s life.
“There’s no question about the value of a good night’s sleep, especially for kids. As adults, we all know how horrible we feel the next day if we don’t sleep well. It’s proven that kids study better, they’re healthier and they act better if they sleep better, so that’s the point,” he said.
Kim Wilson said she also likes that the beds give kids something of their own.
“To me it was getting them off the cold floor, giving them some independence, a place where they could play and read and study,” she said.
They don’t offer the beds as a step up for kids who have beds but are looking for better ones. Many of the recipients will be foster children, because foster parents are mandated to have beds before they can take on new kids.
J.P. and Kim Wilson are retired from the Boeing company. They worked in a satellite division in Los Angeles, where he was an engineer scientist and she was an industrial engineer who actually built the satellites. They moved to Glide three years ago because they have grandchildren here.
Kim Wilson said she has a passion for helping kids, so it didn’t take much for J.P. to convince her to start a chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace. She was nervous about how to finance the project, but after their first delivery, she was all in.
“I’m hooked. We will figure out a way,” she said.
The parts of the bed are built in advance by volunteers, and they’re assembled on site at the recipients’ houses. The assembly is fast.
“It was 30 minutes the other day from start to stop, beds made, kids in bed, photos taken,” J.P. Wilson said.
The Glide chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace is in its infancy. For now, it’s primarily made up of the Wilsons, who’ve received help from one other couple. They hope to draw in volunteers and donations, and to build to the point where they can have several beds ready to go at a time in case they receive short notice from the foster care system of a family with an immediate need for a bed. They’re also looking for corporate sponsors and financial donations. And they need donations of new twin bedding, including comforters, sheets, pillows and mattresses.
Nationwide, the organization has grown by leaps and bounds. At the beginning of the year, Sleep in Heavenly Peace had 14 chapters in seven states. Today, thanks largely to Mike Rowe’s show, it has 41 chapters in 27 states, with hundreds of new chapter requests pending.
The chapter the Wilsons started is Oregon’s first. They plan to offer beds from south of Cottage Grove down to Myrtle Creek. Until a coastal chapter’s established, they’ll also cover Reedsport to Coos Bay.
There is no hard and fast data about just how many kids here need beds, but J.P. Wilson said the national organization, which has been taking bed requests since 2011, estimates between 2 and 3 percent of the population has kids who need beds. The need may be even greater in Douglas County, where child poverty and foster care rates are very high.
Douglas County’s child poverty rate is 30 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Only three Oregon counties have higher child poverty rates. For single-parent families, the Douglas County statistics are even worse, with 48 percent living in poverty.
“There’s a lot of need out there for sure,” J.P. Wilson said. “Beds are something I think a lot of us take for granted. You climb in it every night, you get a good night’s sleep, you get out of it. Maybe you make the bed, maybe you don’t.”
The Wilsons don’t plan to rest until every kid in the county can have the same experience.