Lillian Johnson

Lillian Johnson enjoys jumping on a trampoline, playing the trombone, and competing in engineering challenges with her Destination Imagination team. But she’s also one of Sleep Tight Kids’ most dedicated volunteers.

“I’ve always loved hanging out with children, and it makes me sad that there are kids who can’t get something new,” she says.

The middle schooler was first drawn to Sleep Tight Kids as she began looking for her Mitzvah project, an undertaking made in preparation for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, usually charitable in nature. Lillian knew she wanted her project to have to do with helping children, and her mother, Laurie, suggested Sleep Tight Kids. Lillian learned about the work the organization does, providing newly purchased items of comfort for children in need. “It seemed like a really good idea,” she says. “I wanted to help with that.”

Lillian began attending Circle of Hope meetings nearly a year ago. For the Eliada Home holiday gift-giving event last December she accompanied other volunteers to the Carter’s Outlet and picked out the pajamas that would be given away—“everything that was most adorable,” as she puts it.

The Eliada experience was particularly affecting. “These kids didn’t have happy backgrounds, and then they would get all this new stuff,” like stuffed animals, blankets, and dental kits, in addition to the pajamas. “They were all really happy—surprised, grateful. And it made me happy.”

Now Lillian is lending her talents and work ethic to the second annual Sleep Tight Kids summer fundraiser event, Carnival Day, set for August 13 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Highland Brewing Company. “Before we go to the meetings I try to think of cool stuff, like games, we could do with the fundraiser,” Lillian describes. “I attempted to get Dollywood season passes [for a raffle prize] when we had a field trip there.” (She wasn’t successful, but her initiative in making the ask is an experience she can build on.)

On Carnival Day itself, Lillian will man a lemonade stand that she and her father are building by hand, tapping into her structural engineering skills. In keeping with the big top style, snacks include Poppy Handcrafted Popcorn, and Asheville band The Business will strike a festive tone. Attendees can win raffle prizes from the likes of Spicer Greene Jewelers, the Little Gym, and Zaniac, and more.

At her Bat Mitzvah in June, Lillian spoke about what Sleep Tight Kids means for her. “Sadly, there are a lot of children who live in unstable environments and are suddenly removed from their homes. These kids have almost nothing and are very scared. When these kids are given their brand new pajamas and stuffed animal from Sleep Tight Kids, it gives them comfort and helps to make a bad situation a little better.”

 

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When the Sleep Tight Kids team arrived at Mountain Child Advocacy Center at Mission Children’s Hospital in Asheville on Wednesday, a seven-week-old infant who had been severely beaten was upstairs. She had two broken legs, five broken ribs, and internal swelling from a brutal assault—as well as injuries from earlier attacks that began at only four weeks old. Her own father was charged with the abuse.

Our contact at MCAC told us that they are seeing more and more cases like this one. On the day of our delivery there were only supposed to be four children getting forensic medical exams—but over the night four more phone calls had come in, and there were eight children sitting there now. The kids who pass through MCAC sign their initials on the leaves of a tree painted along one wall. Some leave short messages like, “Don’t be afraid.” The tree becomes part of their therapy and healing process.

More than five million children are reported as abused or neglected every year in the U.S., including more than 4,000 in Buncombe County alone. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and yet it’s hard sometimes, in the face of such abject cruelty, to even know where to begin.

Our Circle of Hope core volunteer group is at the heart of what Sleep Tight Kids does, and it can give us a place to start. The time commitment is flexible and the contributions can be small, but by growing our numbers we can reach and nurture more of these children who are so in need. Please consider becoming part of this group by reaching out via Facebook or the website.

We hold quarterly Circle of Hope meetings, and anyone can join (we usually announce them on Facebook). These volunteers might help make a delivery, pick up toy donations from O.P. Taylor’s, shop for clothes at the Carter’s outlet, move our Dip Jars to new locations, or help with our events—whatever time and energy they give makes an impact.

And the numbers add up: On Wednesday we delivered 20 blankets, 239 stuffed animals, 10 pajama sets, 310 dental kits, and 50 books to MCAC, as well as 15 pajama sets, 8 blankets, 6 washcloths, 250 dental kits, 96 stuffed animals, 200 books, 155 toothpastes to Safelight in Hendersonville. That’s a grand total of 1,359 items of comfort.

Teens and kids are some of our best Circle of Hope volunteers. The time they spend with Sleep Tight Kids can be counted toward service projects for school, church, or Scouts.

Our events committee comes out of Circle of Hope as well, planning fêtes like our upcoming August 13 fundraiser at Highland Brewing Company (we’ll reveal more details about this soon, but it will be a family-friendly event with a carnival atmosphere).

Playing a role in the community—no matter how small—can help to break cycles of abuse and give children the hope they need to flourish. Come join us.

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The Asheville Wing War was a huge success on March 5! As the designated nonprofit beneficiary, Sleep Tight Kids was able to connect with the more than 800 attendees and spread the word about the work we do and the need in our community. Founder Jill Schwarzkopf addressed the full group and shared some of the powerful stories behind our organization.

Participants loved our photo booth and games almost as much as taste testing all the best wings Asheville has to offer!

The Asheville Wing War is an annual event (this was its sixth year) produced by All American Food Fights. Local restaurants and chefs are pitted against one another as they battle to produce the best wings in traditional and specialty categories. Judges gave top honors in both categories to Out of the Blue Peruvian, a food truck. Chop House, at the Four Points Sheraton, earned second place in traditional and third in specialty, and Farm to Fender and Luella’s BBQ rounded out the judges’ picks. People’s Choice vote went to Montford Pullup.

Special thanks to the incredibly generous event sponsors: Asheville Racquet Club, Atlantic Bay Mortgage Group, Blue Ridge Biofuels, Camp Highlander, Classic Event Rental, Dwayne Powell, Edwin Yeates, Firewalker Hot Sauce, Herb Freeman CPA, HEW (Hard Exercise Works), Leah B. Noel CPA, Mozingo Photography, NC Photobox, Palladium Builders, Paper Solutions, Pisgah Brewing Company, RISC Networks, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Sound Barre, Summit Dental, Vista Travel Palm Beach, and The Wired Mouse.

Our great group of volunteers included founder Jill Schwarzkopf; board members Kim Boose, Amanda Bowen, Kristine Freeman, Leanne Johnson, Wendy Knowles, Scott Schwarzkopf, and Carrie Turner; and Wendy Land, Chelsea Powell, Carol Reid, and Erin Stachura.

Sleep Tight Kids was so honored to participate in this incredibly fun and high-spirited event. We had a great time, and are already looking forward to next year!

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Sleep Tight Kids wouldn’t be able to provide the services we do without the support of our board, who dedicate their time and resources to making the lives of displaced children feel warmer and safer. This month we’re getting to know these dedicated individuals on the blog.


Kristine Freeman

KRISTINE FREEMAN (vice president)

What led you to Sleep Tight Kids?
My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic. My father was a school principal and my mom was a nurse. My husband and I have tried to teach our girls and lead by example through hard work and volunteering. Our daughter Katie attended a small university that required service hours. She was a few hours short, and we contacted Jill. When my girls were young they collected trial size toiletries and made up bags for Western Carolina Rescue Mission, so when Jill explained how STK helped in a similar way, but with a focus on children, we knew it was something we could help with.

Describe your most uplifting moment working with Sleep Tight Kids.
I will never forget when we brought toys and pajamas to a battered women’s shelter last year. One young mother began tearing up and hugging us when she learned that each child could pick out their own brand-new stuffed animal…and that the donations were coming from complete strangers. You could see in her eyes that she could not comprehend the love we showed to her and her child without asking for anything in return.

What was your favorite toy as a child?
I had a stuffed Gingerbread man, and I never went to bed without that doll and a kiss and snuggle from my mom. She also read to me every night before bed. My father grew up very poor, and he worked hard to break the cycle of poverty.

How do you spend your time when you’re not working with Sleep Tight Kids?
My family and I really enjoy traveling and meeting people from all around the world—South Africa, Peru, Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas in the past two years. I also enjoy cycling, gardening, caring for my aging father, and photography.


Avery JonesAVERY JONES (treasurer)

What led you to Sleep Tight Kids?
Jill is a long-time friend of mine, so when she asked me to help, I simply said yes. I have a background in fundraising and bookkeeping so it was a natural fit to serve as the treasurer.

Can you describe your most uplifting moment working with Sleep Tight Kids?
Knowing we are helping young children!

What was your favorite toy as a child?
Huge stuffed teddy bear.

What (or who or where) gave you the most comfort when you were young?
My family.

How do you spend your time when you’re not working with Sleep Tight Kids?
Spending time with my family, volunteering at my boys’ school, reading, cooking, cycling/hiking. I enjoy the outdoors!


Wendy KnowlesWENDY KNOWLES (secretary)

What led you to Sleep Tight Kids?
I was introduced to Jill by a mutual friend. She felt my background in marketing would be helpful.

Describe your most uplifting moment working with Sleep Tight Kids.
We had a young woman speak at last year’s fundraising event. Natasha painted a clear picture of why our organization is so desperately needed. STK’s efforts gave Natasha hope and a sense of people caring for her. This, in turn, gave her the strength to tackle the many challenges she faced. Her story made it very clear why we must do more for individuals and families in similar circumstances.  ​

What was your favorite toy as a child?
I had a stuffed animal by the name of “Alfie.” I’ll never forget going off to summer camp one year and forgetting Alfie. I was so upset. My older brother packed up my stuffed toy and shipped it to me. I’ll never forget this gesture, and how comforting it was to have Alfie with me.  ​

What (or who or where) gave you the most comfort when you were young?
My mother. I lost her when I was 19, and I greatly sympathize with families who are separated and children who need additional comfort to get through difficult times.

How do you spend your time when you’re not working with Sleep Tight Kids?
I have a wedding planning business that keeps me very busy. I enjoy hiking, trying new restaurants in Asheville, frequenting coffee shops, and visiting my daughter in California as often as possible.  ​


Amanda BowenAMANDA BOWEN

What led you to Sleep Tight Kids?
A few years ago I posted a recommendation on Facebook that I was looking for a local nonprofit to donate to and a friend shared Sleep Tight Kids with me. I instantly fell in love.

Do you have a specific connection to the work?
My son Dylan had a strong connection to his blanket at an extremely early age (two months old). The way he loved and snuggled with his blanket was undeniable and I thought, “Wow! What if I could help provide that kind of comfort to another child?”

Describe your most uplifting moment working with Sleep Tight Kids.
I’m not sure if I have just one specific moment! I love what we accomplish each day, each month, each delivery to these children. It’s uplifting and inspiring, to say the least. If our efforts can help these kids have sweet dreams when they lay their heads down in times of uncertainty, confusion and fear, then we have fulfilled our mission.

What was your favorite toy as a child?
It was a stuffed doll that had my name on her shirt and kind of looked like me. I took it everywhere. One time, I left it in a restroom while my family and I were traveling on a long trip! I was devastated and began crying. My mother turned around to go all the way back to get it. We found her and all was right with the world.


Kim BooseKIM BOOSE

What led you to Sleep Tight Kids?
Jill was client of mine for personal training, and she was also my daughter’s wedding photographer. She shared with me what Sleep Tight Kids does and her dream and her vision and how much work she put into it for unselfish reasons. I wanted to be a part of that, somehow, in some way.

Describe your most uplifting moment working with Sleep Tight Kids.
I will never forget when Circles of Hope reached out. They had a bunch of kids coming in, but had no supplies. Jill asked for toothbrushes, wipes, just basic necessities. My kids have so much. We take that for granted when so many had nothing. That’s when the reality really hit me. I thought, “I have to just go physically do this myself.” It’s scary that there are children in our own community that are in this situation.

What was your favorite toy as a child?
I collected stuffed hippopotamuses. I loved this one big purple fat snuggly hippopotamus. The hippopotamuses were a symbol that made me feel special, made me feel comforted.

How do you spend your time when you’re not working with Sleep Tight Kids?
I have my children who are grown, and three grandchildren. I run the group fitness at Asheville Racquet Club. I work out a lot. I’m very into the physical side of bringing people happiness and making people smile.


Missy CulverMISSY CULVER

What led you to Sleep Tight Kids?
Jill told me about her dream for STK. I was so inspired by the idea and her passion for it. I had two very young children and it struck me as something I wanted to be a part of. The thought of any child going through such traumatic experiences broke my heart.

Describe your most uplifting moment working with Sleep Tight Kids.
Last fall we held a fundraiser at Bold Rock Cider. Jill asked if I could pick up a guest of honor at Western Carolina Rescue Mission. This mother of two had an incredible story, and I was lucky enough to have that time in the car with her and my children. It was eye opening to the reality of the needs out there, and the impact that STK is having, not just on the children, but on the parents as well. The impact hearing that story firsthand for my children was remarkable.

What was your favorite toy as a child?
This will sound ridiculous, but keep in mind I had two older brothers: Stretch Armstrong was SO cool! I did have a favorite teddy bear that I wore down to rags, but the real comfort came from my amazing mom.

How do you spend your time when you’re not working with Sleep Tight Kids?
I work in accounting, helping small local businesses with bookkeeping, payroll, and taxes. But for fun I’m either playing with my two girls, playing or listening to music, or hiking or paddle boarding.


Leanne JohnsonLEANNE JOHNSON

What led you to Sleep Tight Kids?
When I first met
Jill, she was a teacher at Mills River Elementary, the school my children attended. Being involved at school, I have seen how children can be left in a tough spot and displaced with nothing but the clothes on their back. When Jill started Sleep Tight Kids, I wanted to help.

Can you describe your most uplifting moment working with Sleep Tight Kids?
While visiting a rescue facility, we met a baby boy whose mother was pregnant while she was incarcerated and had to finish her sentence after giving birth. He was addicted to drugs when he was born and had a very tough time detoxing. This was a firsthand experience how children can end up in a situation, mother or no mother, where they have nothing. Seeing the elated expression on the employee’s face when Jill presented pajamas, blankets, and stuffed animals to help with that little fellow, as well as the other children in the facility, was so touching.

What was your favorite toy as a child?
My favorite toys were my stuffed animals “Little Bear” and “Monkey.” The bear sucked his thumb. The monkey was nothing fancy, but I loved him. Remembering how those simple stuffed animals gave me comfort and happiness makes me smile right now. Simple things can mean so much to a child.

What (or who or where) gave you the most comfort when you were young?
My mom was always there, raising me to be a strong, Christian girl and always supporting me in anything I did. Her words of wisdom, strength in her character, and loving arms have always been my comfort.

How do you spend your time when you’re not working with Sleep Tight Kids?
I am a wife, first and foremost. Then I am a mother to my two children, Isaac (12) and Ellory (10). It’s hard to keep it in this order, but I believe God wants it that way. I try to spend time focusing on my marriage as best as possible and being supportive to my husband, as well as keeping our house intact. My family is my life. However, I do own and operate Paper Solutions Inc., which distributes paper rolls, ink ribbons, and more.


Scott Schwarzkopf

SCOTT SCHWARZKOPF

What led you to Sleep Tight Kids?
Supporting my wife, Jill, was the big reason. I belong to the Kiwanis Club of Asheville, and one of our missions is bettering lives of children here. Obviously that works perfectly with Sleep Tight Kids.

Describe your most uplifting moment working with Sleep Tight Kids.
For a lot of events, I don’t go; they don’t want men at the battered woman’s shelter. But seeing the images captured has been amazing. There’s one picture of a kid with a single tear coming down his cheek. I did go a pajama party we had at Steadfast House. I remember a little girl who was so shy. She came out of her shell when we all showed up in pajamas, brought cake, and had nice little party.

What was your favorite toy as a child?
The Atari 2600. It still holds a soft spot in my heart.

What (or who or where) gave you the most comfort when you were young?
It was going to grandma’s house for the Christmas holidays. Whether it was the holidays or her house, it always smelled like chocolate pudding.

How do you spend your time when you’re not working with Sleep Tight Kids?
My job is fundraising for universities. Otherwise, my kids’ activities, dance lessons, swimming lessons, horseback lessons, guitar lessons. I love spending time with them and doing things they like.


Carrie TurnerCARRIE TURNER

What are some specific connections you have to the work of Sleep Tight Kids?
I have two young children who have both been very attached to bedtime comfort items. My daughter (Dora, nine) had a hand-knit baby blanket that she literally loved to extinction. My son (Oscar, five) sleeps every night with his teddy bear, “Foxy.” I can only imagine how devastating it would be for them if these items were lost in an emergency situation. To help a child in a scary and difficult time with something so basic and fulfilling as a teddy bear or warm PJs is such a great thing.

Describe your most uplifting moment working with Sleep Tight Kids.
It’s been inspiring to me to see children (my own and others) get involved in the cause. I think if we can inspire empathy in our children, they might become the generation that has the power to change the world for the better.

What was your favorite toy as a child?
I always enjoyed toys that had a creative element to them—Etch-a-Sketch, Spirograph, Tinker Toys. We had a set of wooden blocks with holes/tracks that you could connect and send marbles through. I still play with that at my dad’s house! And I had a  Little People hospital, which I really loved.

What (or who or where) gave you the most comfort when you were young?
I have always been an animal lover, so there were always pets to be friends, companions, protectors, and comforters. I grew up in a rural area so I spent a lot of time exploring in the woods with our dogs and cats.

How do you spend your time when you’re not working with Sleep Tight Kids?
My husband Brian and I live in West Asheville with our kids and several pets. We work together as self-employed artists: Brian is a musician and I’m a freelance photographer. I love cooking, biking, yoga, and hiking with the dogs, and I’m a big Star Wars nerd/fan, so you can always find a Star Wars novel on my bedside table.

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Four-year-old Brooke has joined the wrong group on the floor of the Eliada Home gym. When the teacher stands the kids up to return to the classroom, she notices Brooke. “Oops! You’re not with me. Stay here, okay?” she says, as the rest of the children depart in a single file line. It’s only a quick moment—and Brooke’s correct class is just across the gym—but her sense of abandonment is keen. Her eyes well up and a few tears slip down her cheeks. But in Brooke’s bag is a brand-new stuffed elephant (among other new bedtime items), and when she pulls it out and holds it close, her tears stop. In a few more moments she’s been coaxed into intoning some delightful high-pitched squeals—the “sound an elephant makes.” Her classmates join her, having finally selected their own new stuffed animal friends, and the momentary crisis has been averted.

The children in Eliada’s academy, daycare, and after-school programs are often in transition from unstable environments. Some are in the foster care system and some are housed on Eliada’s campus, while others still live at home, but come from underserved families or have special learning needs. Many have experienced abuse, neglect, or other trauma. They are exactly the children Sleep Tight Kids aims to reach out to with comfort, warmth, and reassurance.

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Last Tuesday marked the second annual holiday gift-giving event for Sleep Tight Kids at Eliada. More than 200 kids, from toddlers to 12-year-olds, visited the Eliada gym to choose their own pajama sets, blankets, stuffed animals, and dental hygiene kits, and all walked away with a bag with their name on it, literally spilling over with gifts. (Babies from only six weeks old received their own special delivery.)

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Volunteers manned tables overflowing with goods—particularly a full menagerie of very soft stuffed animals. As quickly as kids could make their selections, the tables were restocked, and new types of animals were unearthed from a seemingly endless supply of boxes—with popular choices like puppies and kittens; lions, tigers, and four kinds of bears; and even beavers, horses, and moose (rechristened reindeer by many of the children, given the wintry season). Some kids, their faces lit with joy, made beelines for their animal of choice, while others remained cautious in their decision-making process, wanting to be certain the bounty was truly meant for them.

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Bright pajama sets featured polka dots, ballet shoes, trucks, penguins, yetis, and more. A teacher noted that the following week would feature a Wear-Your-Pajamas-to-School Day at Eliada, so the kids would be able to put their new fashions on display. Thick, fuzzy blankets of red, blue, and green were stacked high on the tables, and promised warmth on a chilly day.

Teachers exhorted their students to leave their gifts in the bags until they got back to the classroom in an orderly fashion, but most kids simply couldn’t resist pulling out their stuffed animals for a hug. Many of the children came up with names for their new toys on the spot—Fuzzy for a koala, Rudolph for the reindeer, Foxy for a fox, and so on. And at least one found delight even in the dental hygiene kit: “Green is my favorite color!” exclaimed a girl named Sophie, discovering the enclosed toothbrush of that hue.

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“This is the best Christmas Day ever,” sighed Sophie blissfully, clutching her toothbrush in one hand and a stuffed giraffe in the other, completely unfazed by the fact that the holiday itself was still 12 days away.

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“None of us ever want to imagine our kids, or any child, without the basic comforts in life—so the work Sleep Tight Kids does is a no-brainer,” says Ashley Gragtmans, CFP® Financial Advisor at Parsec Financial, which earlier this year awarded Sleep Tight Kids with $10,000 through its Parsec Prize.

The prize was introduced in 1995, and is given annually to nonprofit community organizations that fall under a broad rubric of education and economic development within Western North Carolina the Charlotte metro area. Roughly one percent of Parsec’s gross revenue each year is dedicated to prize recipients—which have totaled 61 organizations since its inception. In 2016, a total of $100,000 was awarded to 10 organizations. Recipients are chosen based on their ability to improve the quality of life and access to meaningful opportunities for those they serve.

As Western North Carolina continues to struggle with child poverty, Sleep Tight Kids is pushing to expand and reach as many children as possible with tangible items of nighttime comfort in times of greatest need—blankets, pajamas, stuffed animals, and more. Of the counties currently served by Sleep Tight Kids (Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Madison, McDowell, Transylvania, and Yancey), the majority saw a rate of around 30 percent of kids living below the poverty line in 2013. By comparison, the U.S. average for children under the age of 18 living in poverty is 21 percent; in North Carolina, the average is 25 percent. A restful night’s sleep is often in short supply for those children and their families.

“Committee members had never heard of Sleep Tight Kids,” says Gragtmans, “but we all immediately saw the need for such an organization in our community. We are excited to see what they are able to do and provide to our community as they grow—and we are glad we could help them take another step in that direction.”

Parsec, a wealth management firm with offices in Asheville, Charlotte, Southern Pines, and Tryon, has built its company culture around the idea giving back the community. “We try to foster a culture of giving by not only donating to the organizations that Parsec believes in, but by giving to the organizations that the employees believe in as well,” says Gragtmans. “We do this by offering a two-for-one matching program”—i.e., for every dollar an employee donates to a nonprofit of his or her choice, Parsec will donate two, effectively tripling the size of the donation. (The Parsec Prize represents half of the company’s total annual charitable giving, with the rest coming through employee matches, community sponsorships, and other donations.) “We believe this is one of the things that sets us apart as an employer and firm, and we think our employees feel that way as well,” concludes Gragtmans.

parsec

INTRODUCING THE DIPJAR

While the $10,000 Parsec Prize is the largest donation yet to Sleep Tight Kids, small gifts can be just as important—and Sleep Tight Kids is using a new method that makes giving as little $3 as simple as possible. DipJars are an electronic solution for cashless giving—replacing a typical donation box or tip jar. Be on the lookout for the bright blue Sleep Tight Kids–branded DipJars at businesses around town (and at the Asheville Downtown Association mixer at Spicer-Greene Jewelers on Dec. 1, where Sleep Tight Kids will be the featured nonprofit). With just a quick credit card swipe, the DipJar enables small on-the-go donations, and provides messaging about what that gift buys (for instance, 20 blankets for $10).

Locations for December include:

The Little Gym, 1000 Brevard Rd., Suite 168
M-Th 9am-6pm, F 9am-4pm, Sa 9am-6pm, Su 2pm-6pm
Asheville Racquet Club Downtown, One Resort Drive
M-F 5am-9pm, Sa 7am-9pm, Su 7am-8pm
Asheville Racquet Club South, 200 Racquet Club Rd.
M-Th 5am-9:30pm, F 5am-8pm, Sa 7am-8pm, Su 8am-8pm

Want to host a Sleep Tight Kids DipJar in your own business, or know of a business that may be interested? Inquire now about having one installed.

dipjar-little-gym dipjar

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TOYS THAT TEACH
Phil Thomas’s “Toys That Teach” have been lovingly crafted, made from long-lasting, natural exotic hardwoods and painted with rich, old-fashioned (and chew-safe) milk paint. Thomas first conceived of the educational toys for his grandchildren, ages five and one, and designed two simple sets: a colors-and-shapes matching toy, and a fraction toy consisting of six-inch circles of wood, with each layer cut into different fractions. His grandchildren loved them, and Phil enjoyed making them so much that he made nine more to sell at his neighborhood association fall market. But as a woodworking hobbyist and retiree, Phil didn’t want to take any money for his creations—so he donated the proceeds to Sleep Tight Kids.

“It turned out children enjoyed the toys, I enjoyed it, and we helped Sleep Tight Kids. I could see a good result,” he says. (Phil’s toys are available for limited purchase; contact Sleep Tight Kids if you’re interested.)

toys-1 toys-2

PARTY POWER
When Cat Kessler had her baby shower, rather than request gifts, she and her husband decided to ask their friends and family bring books for Sleep Tight Kids. “I had a complicated pregnancy,” she says, “and through that time, we were taken care of by a lot of people in our lives—by doctors, by our church, by our friends and family, and even by strangers. With the shower we wanted to say thank you, and pay it forward for all care we got.”

Four-year-old Afton May, with the help of her parents, collected items for Sleep Tight Kids for her own birthday party—instilling the charitable impulse at a young age. (Kids are natural givers, and introducing them to charitable giving around age three or four can expand their lifelong capacity for empathy.)

shower birthday

There are so many ways to help Sleep Tight Kids—by harnessing your time and talents, by sharing what has been given to you, or by including the Sleep Tight Kids mission in the time you spend with your friends and families. And giving isn’t limited, of course, to artistic talent or celebrations. As we move into the holiday season, there are more opportunities than ever to give.

Now through December 15, three area State Employee Credit Union (SECU) branches are accepting newly purchased nighttime comfort items (pajamas, blankets, stuffed animals, nightlights, etc.) at the following locations:

111 Smokey Park Hwy
Asheville NC 28806
828-665-4801 (contact Haley Crisp)

231 Long Shoals Rd
Arden NC 28704
828-687-4070 (contact Victor Gonzalez)

2631 Hendersonville Rd
Arden NC 28704
828-654-9541 (contact Flave Hart)

wwavl_logowebComing up in March, Sleep Tight Kids has been named the official charity for the Asheville Wing War at the Crowne Plaza Expo Center. More than 700 tickets are sold to this event (they sell out every year), and sponsorship opportunities are available now, ranging from $250 “Extra Saucy” sponsors to $1000 “Extra Spicy” and more. A portion of each sponsorship donation goes to Sleep Tight Kids.

Giving doesn’t have to be arduous or require careful planning. It can be folded into something you already love doing—such as Phil’s woodworking. It can be a quick dip of your credit card for just a small amount. Or it can be part of a social event, whether the attendees number in the hundreds, or are just a small circle of kin.

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A late-night knock at the door—someone telling you to quickly gather what you need—leaving your house in the dark….

Children often enter the foster care system with nothing but the clothes they are wearing—or in the case of babies or toddlers, just a diaper. At best, they might have had a few minutes to toss what they can of their possessions into a box or a garbage bag, before leaving their home for an unfamiliar place—spending the night in a cold social services office, trying to find space in a chaotic group house, or entering a foster home inhabited by strangers. Any item that can become their own possession—a blanket, a pillow—and travel with them can provide comfort and security.

Sleep Tight Kids founder Jill Schwarzkopf with Madison County Sheriff J.E. Harwood

Sleep Tight Kids founder Jill Schwarzkopf with Madison County Sheriff J.E. Harwood.

Sleep Tight Kids works with the Department of Social Services in eight surrounding counties—Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Madison, McDowell, Transylvania and Yancey—to reach these children, delivering bedding, stuffed animals, pajamas, nightlights and more. Partnering with DSS allows Sleep Tight Kids to assist the largest number of kids in need at that moment, and with your help and donations Sleep Tight Kids can expand our reach into even more counties.

Currently, Buncombe County has about 285 kids in the foster care system at any given time. That translates to around 55 kids per 10,000, compared to an overall North Carolina average of 40 per 10,000. And while other nearby counties have smaller populations, and therefore a lower number of kids in the foster system, many have a higher ratio. The ratio of children in foster care in Madison, Haywood, and Yancey is more than double the state average in each county. The total number of kids in foster care for the eight counties hovers around 730.

In October 2015:

  • Buncombe: 286 kids in foster care at one time / 55.2 per 10,000 / 432 total kids came through the foster system past year
  • Haywood: 101 kids in foster care at one time / 86.7 per 10,000 / 149 total kids came through the foster system past year
  • Henderson: 142 kids in foster care at one time / 61.3 per 10,000 / 206 total kids came through the foster system past year
  • Jackson: 49 kids in foster care at one time / 55.8 per 10,000 /65 total kids came through the foster system past year
  • Madison: 41 kids in foster care at one time / 97.9 per 10,000 / 73 total kids came through the foster system past year
  • McDowell: 38 kids in foster care at one time / 39.3 per 10,000 / 60 total kids came through the foster system past year
  • Transylvania: 42 kids in foster care at one time / 62.9 per 10,000 / 55 total kids came through the foster system past year
  • Yancey: 30 kids in foster care at one time / 86.6 per 10,000 / 45 total kids came through the foster system past year

 

Statistics are culled from Fostering Court Improvement, a collaborative database by the School of Social Work at UNC, Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic at Emory University and the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law. Numbers are extrapolated in cases where county child population is less than 10,000.

Madison County DSS staff receives stuffed animals and blankets from Sleep Tight Kids.

Madison County DSS staff receives stuffed animals and blankets from Sleep Tight Kids.

Statewide, the number of children needing foster care has gone up in each of the past four years, rising by nearly 20 percent. Meanwhile, the number of homes licensed for foster care has dropped, making placement even more difficult and the instability and trauma felt by the kids all the more acute. In Buncombe County there are roughly 85 licensed homes for nearly 300 children. In the face of the shortage, children might be sent to foster families farther away from their birth families, making reunification harder, and further isolating the kids.

A security blanket is needed all the more.

A child receives a stuffed animal from Sleep Tight Kids.

A child receives a stuffed animal from Sleep Tight Kids.

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A year and a half ago Natasha’s options seemed grim. She was struggling with drug addiction and a series of transient and abusive living situations that had eventually devolved into homelessness. She had given up her son to his father. A self-destructive cycle of cocaine and men continued, and then Natasha discovered she was pregnant again—with no idea who the father was. Terrified and alone, she found her way to the Western Carolina Rescue Mission in downtown Asheville.

natasha5  Sleep Tight Kids founder Jill Schwarzkopf with Natasha and Eliana

Sleep Tight Kids founder Jill Schwarzkopf first met Natasha there, delivering a bundle of baby clothes for the soon-to-arrive girl. Natasha just wanted to talk—about her son, about how she wanted to get her life together. She made Jill promise to come back. After the baby, Eliana, was born, Sleep Tight Kids returned with blankets, baby books, soaps, powders, and stuffed animals. Natasha told them she was working to get out of the Mission, to get housing for herself and Eliana. She asked for help in eating healthier, and for clothes to wear to job interviews.

In May Natasha spoke at the Sleep Tight Kids fundraiser at Bold Rock Cider. As she told her story to a room full of people, you could hear a pin drop. These experiences, she said, had led her to realize that there are people who care about her—people who don’t even need to know her in order to care. Natasha said she could feel that support through the items she’d been given—the baby clothes, blankets, toys—and feeling that connection was part of what pushed her to keep working to get her life on track, and gave her hope that she might one day have her five-year-old son back with her.

Two months later, Natasha called Jill. After a year at the Western Carolina Rescue Mission, Natasha told Jill, she and Eliana had been approved for housing. She was calling from her very own apartment. Natasha had gotten a solid job, and was on the path to making her own way, independently supporting herself and Eliana. And—the crowning joy—she was seeing her son again.

  Sleep Tight Kids found Jill Schwarzkopf with Natasha

Government-funded social services often don’t stretch beyond formula and diapers for infants. There’s a huge need to fill that gap—not just to feed children, but to clothe them, let them snuggle in something warm, give them something to play with. In short, these items make them feel cared for, even by faraway or anonymous caregivers. As Jill puts it:

“WE’RE ACTUALLY PROVIDING HOPE TO BABIES AND MOMS,
LETTING PEOPLE KNOW WE CARE ABOUT THEM.”

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