CLEVELAND, Ohio – Many people talk about needs in our community. They point at data, share anecdotes and press us with passionate pleas. This is good. We need to be reminded, and sadly, sometimes we need to be cajoled into caring. Meeting needs always starts with caring.
Talking and caring isn’t enough, though. It’s the people who take action, the donors and doers who create and carry out solutions, who really help a community change for the better. Although some needs are huge, no action is ever too small. Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, said, “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” So, what this world really needs is more stone carriers.
A few weeks ago, I got to meet a stone-carrying, mountain-mover named Roger Dorsey. A retired military man with a doctorate of divinity degree, Dorsey has been building beds for bedless children since 2018. Inspired by his own childhood, he first established a chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, a national organization based out of Idaho. In the two years he worked with them, he facilitated the creation of 1500 beds. But then the business model changed.
SHP started paying executive leadership significant salaries, and that didn’t work for Dorsey.
So he changed it up.
“As we grew in Lorain County and saw the need ever growing with us, we decided it was in the best interest of the children and families we served to keep all funding (donations) in Lorain County and to remain an all volunteer organization,” Dorsey shared.
In 2020, he formed a new nonprofit, the Good Knights of Lorain County. A bookkeeper is paid a small amount for services, and Dorsey is reimbursed for gasoline, as he travels for materials and build/delivery days.
So, why did the Good Knights come to Cleveland? It started when Scott Plourde, general manager of Holcim US-Great Lakes Region, contacted Dorsey to create a volunteer service project for his employees. Cleveland is well beyond the Good Knights’ usual service area, but Dorsey was open to the idea and told him if enough volunteers were rounded up, they’d organize the effort.
Many pieces came together. LaFarge, a Holcim holding, committed its West 3rd warehouse in the industrial area of the Flats to host build days. Lyndhurst Lumber donated some of the lumber needed for the twin-size bed frames. Ten local organizations and businesses brought volunteers and donations.
Partnering with the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority helped the application process to determine who would receive a new bed. The goal was set. The Good Knights and more than 150 volunteers would build and deliver 104 beds in three days to kids in the Central neighborhood. Woot!!
On January 27, volunteers armed with saws, sanders, drills and measuring tapes went to work in the cavernous warehouse at LaFarge. Step one – cut lumber to length, sorting out poor quality boards as they went. The first night everyone worked late to be ready for the next day.
I showed up on Friday, the second build day, to visit what Dorsey called “The Beehive of Organized Chaos.”
The Hive was Alive! Compared to the sunny day, the place was murky and dense with dust and roaring. As my eyes adjusted, a squadron of volunteers appeared on my right, all bent over long golden two-by-fours, propped up on sawhorses. They guided their buzzing sanders over the boards to smooth away splinters that might hurt a young hand.
Teams of three or four moved in synchronized rhythms, measuring twice and cutting once, drilling holes for connecting bolts, assembling simple headboards and footboards. Finished frame pieces were flipped into organized stacks leaning against the wall, where they would wait until being loaded for delivery.
The whole place was filled with happy, purposeful energy. Everyone knew their work would be holding some young one, hugging a new pillow in their new bed the very next day.
Delivery days are always Saturdays, so people from the community can join the effort, Dorsey told me. It would take a lot of trucks and vans to make it happen. Delivery command central was the parking lot behind CMHA’s Outhwaite House and the Louis B. Stokes Museum at the corner of Quincy and East 46th Street.
Dorsey told me how each vehicle was loaded with the exact number of bed frames, mattresses, bedding and cuddly stuffed toys (donated by CBx) for each delivery address on the team leader’s list. I rode along with Doug Haney, an experienced Good Knight. Eventually, we left the staging area and found the first address off East 55th, near Quincy Avenue. Zsa Zsa Taylor, a lead asset site manager for CMHA, stood near the front door and motioned us in.
The front door opened directly into the living room, where family members sat watching TV, but soon their eyes were on the parade of strangers going up and down the stairs. First, the team had to see the layout and listened as Katrina Taylor, mom and manager of this family, explained how two beds went in the first room and one in each of the other two bedrooms. It was time to haul in the pieces, parts and tools.
With everything upstairs, two or three people worked in each room. Drills came to life and zinged bolts into place. Haney invited me to help with the bed in the middle room. He showed me how to hold the pieces of wood so the bolts would slide through and set correctly.
Out in the hall, 8-year-old LJ was dancing. He grinned widely and hugged his still-wrapped mattress. His mom smiled, as I took a picture.
All four beds finished, we returned to the hub of distribution at Outhwaite. Once more, I found Dorsey. “So, was this a success?” I asked. He looked at me thoughtfully. “Yes, it was. But this is too far for us to stretch our resources.” I asked what was needed to make it doable. His answer came quickly. “We need Cleveland-based volunteers, and a partner, maybe an East side organization to facilitate.”
That’s understandable. And the need is real. It doesn’t take scientific research (although there’s plenty of it) to understand a good night’s rest is a key component of any child’s mental and physical health, and that sleeping in one’s own bed will give the best rest. Sadly, many children are bedless.
In fact, SHP estimates between two and three percent of kids under the age of 18 don’t have a bed of their own. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but a little math combined with Census Bureau data tells us there are about 2,700 children sleeping on floors, piles of blankets or clothes, in a sibling’s bed or on a couch in the city of Cleveland. Extrapolate that to all of Cuyahoga County, and that number jumps to 7,700 children with no bed of their own.
That’s a lot of beds. Good thing our area has more than one organization helping to move the mountain. The Cleveland Furniture Bank started its Beds for Kids program in 2010 and takes care of families referred there through social service agencies. SHP has an active Cuyahoga West chapter, led by Susie Asadorian, and a Cuyahoga East chapter is developing. The Good Knights wants to build and deliver at least 1,000 beds this year and hopes to add enough volunteers to meet needs, as far as they can stretch, even into Cleveland.
We need them all, and they need us. Every organization mentioned receives applications for beds via their websites. They all need volunteers and donations. No child should have to sleep on the floor. Let’s care enough to carry at least one stone to help move this mountain.
The Sleep in Heavenly Peace main website is https://shpbeds.org/ and has a list of chapters by state.
Leslie Kouba, a lifetime resident of Northeast Ohio and mother of four completely grown humans, enjoys writing, laughing and living in Cleveland with her wife, five cats and a fat-tailed gecko named Zennis. You can reach her at [email protected].