Faithful help Sleep in Heavenly Peace give kids a good night’s rest

Parishioners from St. Mary's, Richmond, build beds for Sleep in Heavenly Peace on Jan. 20, 2024. (Photo/Curtis Marshall)

Sleep in Heavenly Peace is a national nonprofit organization with a very specific goal: to get kids off the floor and into beds.

Thousands of children across the country have no bed to call their own. They sleep on floors, sagging couches, piles of jackets, thin blankets, or jammed into beds with multiple other children.

Originally founded in Idaho in 2012, Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP) volunteers build twin and bunk beds for those in need.

It all started with one bed built in Luke Mickelson’s garage. He had heard of a local family in need of a bed and decided to build one himself. The word spread, and more families in need were identified.

Mickelson was shocked and saddened to learn that so many kids were without beds. Over the next year, he and some friends built a dozen beds, which then snowballed into hundreds, and now thousands of beds each year. The organization now has more than 300 chapters nationwide, including one in Henrico that was founded in 2018 by Curtis Marshall.

Volunteers from Saint Mary’s, Richmond, spent a weekend earlier this year working with SHP to build and deliver beds to children in the local community. Anne-Marie Condlin, coordinator for Catholic Heart Workcamp at Saint Mary’s, said the response to the call for volunteers was so overwhelming, there was a waitlist of teens and adults wanting to help.

“It may seem like a small thing, but for a child, whether they are two or 17, having their first bed, having one thing that is all their own, is a gift and blessing,” said Condlin. “For the volunteers, it is a reminder that we are part of a larger community.”

“It is easy to see Christ in the face of a child, and that joy of Christ radiates in the eyes of a child who finally has a bed of his or her own,” Condlin continued. “Just as rewarding is the relief that washes over the parents or caregivers who are so grateful to have a place for the child they love to sleep safely and comfortably.”

Life-changing experiences

Marshall, a parishioner of St. Bridget, Richmond, recalled watching the founder of SHP being honored on CNN in 2018. He said that while many charities provide clothes and food, few provide beds, and he felt called to help. He researched how to start a local chapter, traveling to Idaho to train and learn more about SHP. He recruited some friends, many of whom are fellow parishioners, to join the effort.

“In large part because we’re helping children, and because it’s something as basic as a bed, people want to help. When you realize there are kids in your own community who don’t have a bed to sleep in, it’s a very real need you feel like you’re fulfilling,” Marshall said.

The average cost to make a bed is about $250. Local sponsors include Home Depot and Siewers Lumber & Millwork, which provide discounts on building materials and temporary space to build. Marshall hopes the chapter will one day have its own storage space.

With support from donations, sponsors and volunteers, SHP is responsible for every stage of the bed-making process. They procure lumber, tools, mattresses, and sheets, blankets and pillows. Volunteers try to find colorful and character-themed bedding for the children.

Marshall commented that children have asked if they could put stickers or paint on the beds and he responds, “Of course you can, it’s YOUR bed!”

It is well-documented that lack of sleep can affect everything from physical and mental health to school and work performance. It’s linked to hyperactivity, irritability, and other behavioral issues; memory loss; anxiety and depression; stunted physical growth; and increased risk of obesity, among others.

SHP also notes that it’s estimated that 2-3% of the country’s children do not have a bed. While that may seem like a small amount, it equates to roughly 1.5 million kids.

Over the years, SHP has helped more than 100,000 children, 400 of them in the Richmond area. Marshall remembered the impact of the first bed he delivered, not just on the family he was helping, but on his own family as well.

“My son is now 15. He was ten when we made our very first delivery,” said Marshall. “It was for a family of refugees from the Congo. They had only been in the country for a few months and had five kids and two beds. We did the delivery and we walked out, and my son looked at me. He was a little choked up, and said, ‘Dad, that was really something.’”

Marshall commented that his children, who have never had to spend a night sleeping on the floor, were given a unique experience through volunteering.

“Not only is it an opportunity to do service, but it’s an opportunity to provide others with service opportunities, and to interact with people they otherwise wouldn’t,” he said. He invites sponsors to participate in the building and delivering process so they “can see where their money’s going” and have their own life-changing experience.

Marshall explained that while there is an application process, providing financial information is not required to request a bed. SHP often communicates with social workers and teachers to help identify children in need.

Caregivers can also call and request a bed. SHP does its best to help as many children as possible, especially in emergency situations, though Marshall stated that, sadly, “The biggest challenge is that I don’t think we’ll ever catch up with the need.”

‘One child at a time’

Caryn Fresco is the applications manager for the Henrico chapter of SHP. She connects with each recipient, asking about the sleeping conditions and living arrangements of the home, how many children need beds, if there are bedbugs or illnesses present, and more.

She schedules deliveries, coordinates volunteers, helps build and deliver the beds. This is a passion project for her as she was a special education teacher for many years and knows firsthand the importance of sleep for a child’s development.

“We are making a big impact one child at a time,” she said.

One story that greatly impacted her occurred two summers ago. Fresco and a group of teenagers attending that year’s Catholic Heart Workcamp had built several beds during the week. They had also been sleeping on the gym floor – a new and uncomfortable experience for them. They delivered a bunk bed to two children who were being raised by their grandmother, as their parents were both in prison.

While the teen volunteers spent a few uncomfortable nights on the floor, the children they were helping had never had beds before. When the grandmother saw the finished bunk bed, she sobbed. So did Fresco. So did the teen volunteers.

“She suggested we always remember three things: there is a higher purpose; selfishness closes your heart to God, and the world needs more teenagers like them who are working to make the world a kinder, loving place. She ended with, ‘You all give me hope for the world,’” recalled Fresco.


In the Richmond area: If you would like to get involved, or are in need of a bed, please contact Curtis Marshall at [email protected].

If you would like to donate, please visit

To find chapters in other parts of Virginia:


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