NEW HANOVER COUNTY – In December 2019 a young girl in New Hanover County Schools told her guidance counselor she had one Christmas wish: a bed — so she and her sister would no longer have to sleep on the floor. Then, maybe, the roaches would no longer bite them.
When Rebecca Trammel, founder of the nonprofit Ruthie Trammel’s Champions for Compassion, heard the story, she was compelled to act.
Champions for Compassion strives to gift beds to children in need throughout February. The recently launched pilot program, Dream Big, is offering self-inflating, twin air mattresses for free to New Hanover County children who currently do not have an adequate place to sleep. The gift also will come with sheets, pillows and blankets.
New Hanover County Regional Medical Center has committed $5,000 to kickstart the initiative and agreed to let Champions for Compassion purchase beds through the hospital. NHRMC buys air mattresses in bulk at a reduced price from a supplier for circumstances such as winter storms or hurricanes when employees stay inside the buildings.
“One of the best ways to improve health care in a community is to get a full night’s sleep and be able to go to school and learn,” Scott Whisnant, administrator of community relations at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, said. “It’s an easy call for us to make . . . Not to mention that it’s heartbreaking when children in our community, where we live, have to sleep on floors.”
To make Dream Big a reality, the program still needs monetary support. People can donate online, and the organization intends on opening sponsorship opportunities in coming weeks. Businesses that make substantial donations will have their logo displayed on a card given to students along with their beds.
“We want them to know that they’re cared for,” Trammel said, “to let them know it is important to all of us that they get a good night’s sleep, so that they know that they have friends and they have support in our community.”
The cost of a bed for one child is $150. That donation also covers a planned public health campaign to promote and teach healthy sleeping habits to the youth.
In New Hanover County, 15% of children live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Children whose families cannot afford beds often resort to couches, chairs or the floor.
Those kids also tend to struggle in school. Sleep deprivation can add to poor performance, since it affects children’s attention, memory, decision making, reaction time and creativity. It also contributes to behavioral problems, such as noncompliance and hyperactivity, and moodiness.
“If they don’t do well in school, what options do they have later in life?” Whisnant asked. “It just plays out over the span of a lifetime and it’s a cycle you have to break.”
Trammel said Dream Big has received applications for 30 beds in the first week, From discussions with others in the community, she believes there are a lot more children in need, who are “hiding in the shadows.”
Applications are open for up to 200 initial students who need a bed and should be submitted by Friday, Feb. 12. Volunteers will discreetly deliver beds to homes Feb. 26-27.
Families are encouraged to fill out an application through their school guidance counselor or social worker. Trammel said this not only verifies the need but also initiates an introduction between families and support staff, who may be able to provide assistance in other ways.
To track the impact of the initiative, NHCS has agreed to collect de-identified information, Trammel said. Champions for Compassion’s Dream Big is collaborating with NHCS Supervisor of School Counseling and Social Work Tanya Jordan and Student Support Services Director Kristin Jackson.
Parents will be asked permission so the program can access data on their chid’s attendance, number of school nurse visits, and behavioral information, such as suspensions. It will also look at the average grade point average of students – before and after they received the bed – to gauge the changes to their academic performance.
The pilot program is only available in New Hanover County for now. However, Trammel said Champions for Compassion wants to expand into Brunswick and Pender counties.
Champions for Compassion is also seeking donations of sherpa blankets. Contributions may be dropped off at Hemenway Center at 507 McRae Street in Wilmington.
“We have so much in store that we want to do,” Trammel said. “I think we’re just getting started.”
Tips or ideas? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Port City Daily offers some coverage for free. However, we value the time and effort our journalists put into their work. If you agree, please, consider a monthly subscription for access to all of PCD’s in-depth reporting, and sign up for the free morning newsletter.