A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky by Heart: Inspired by movie, Jessica Collins aims to provide kids ‘A Place to Sleep’

“You’re never too young to make a difference,” said Jessica Collins, 19, a nursing student at Western Kentucky University. She means those words now, and she meant them at age ten when she gave roots to a program that donates beds to children who lack such a basic resource. The project is called “A Place to Sleep,” and since 2010, about 1500 bed sets have gone to deserving young people, mostly in Jessica’s hometown community of Shelbyville.

Jessica Collins with a child recipient of a bed (Photo provided)

Jessica was inspired by a movie called The Blind Side which she and her friends watched shortly before Christmas, 2009. She was touched when young Michael Ohr, estranged from both parents and a brought into the home of a well-to-do couple, received his first bed. “Everyone cries at that moment,” she said. “After seeing the movie, I wanted to give some (needy) kid a bed.” That didn’t surprise people who knew how Jessica was raised.

“Growing up, my mom and grandma always made community service just ‘what we do,’” she recalled. “If school was canceled for snow, I knew I’d spend my day at the soup kitchen (in Shelbyville) or we’d help sort clothes at the pregnancy center. I remember liking it.” She also was part of a church group that made a trip to Guatemala, in Central America, to minister to the poor. She thrived in a culture of compassion for others.

Soon after seeing the movie, Jessica asked the Family Resource and Youth Service Center (FRYSC) coordinator at her school, Painted Stone Elementary, for a referral of somebody needing a bed. “There was an apartment behind our house where a kid and his brother were sleeping on the floor,” noted Jessica.” Again, it left a strong impression. With the help of her mother and grandmother, an email was sent to her family’s Shelbyville church, First Presbyterian, asking if anyone had beds to donate for a situation like this. In response, someone offered their recently deceased mother’s bed; it was given to the neighbor kids Jessica had found in need.

Steve Flairty grew up feeling good about Kentucky. He recalls childhood day trips (and sometimes overnight ones) orchestrated by his father, with the take-off points being in Campbell County. The people and places he encountered then help define his passion about the state now. After teaching 28 years, Steve spends much of his time today writing and reading about the state, and still enjoys doing those one dayers (and sometimes overnighters). “Kentucky by Heart” shares part and parcel of his joy. A little history, much contemporary life, intriguing places, personal experiences, special people, book reviews, quotes, and even a little humor will, hopefully, help readers connect with their own “inner Kentucky.”

A Place to Sleep was now up and running, thanks to Jessica and help received from her family, her church, and local elementary schools’ FRYSCs which supplied referrals of vetted individuals with the need for beds. Jessica’s venture to reach out is doing amazingly good work today, nine years later.

Officially, the long-term project is directed from the First Presbyterian Church, but according to Jessica, about a dozen people are regularly involved. “It’s pretty much me and my family and my grandparents’ best friends,” she said. “There’s a church called Christ Community in Shelbyville and once a month they’ve chosen us (as a project) to deliver beds. They’ll do up to ten or fifteen beds in one day, but if it is a random delivery, it’ll be my grandpa, his friend, and my grandma.”

There are normally about 60 to 70 on the list to receive beds. Factors in the amount of time it takes to honor those requests depend on A Place to Sleep’s financial status and the FRYSC’s referral, along with the amount of ready help available. Most of the beds are new, bought at near cost from Tracy’s Home Furnishings, Shelbyville. The group makes sure that the used beds given are clean and present no hygienic issues to the receivers. Jessica shared this simple criterion in regard to any bed considered: “We will give one only if it’s one that I would sleep on myself.”

The work of the project has extended to 23 counties in the state, though mostly in Shelby County. Those from outside the county receiving beds are asked to furnish the picking up of the item.

Jessica beams when sharing the “little stories” of lives influenced positively by A Place to Sleep. “There was one little girl who needed a bed and her mom was really sick,” she said. “Her mother got better and they ended up volunteering…no money to give but they were willing to work.” Touched greatly, the girl, now in middle school, started a non-profit that gives bags of toiletries to those who are homeless.

Jessica (right) receives an award for her work with A Place to Sleep (Photo provided)

“If you shine a light on someone, it’s taught me that they can be a blessing for someone else later on,” said Jessica.

She plans to be always child-centered in her compassionate activities, seeing young people as often victims of bad parenting. “Parents might be on drugs,” she explained. “It’s never the kids’ fault that they have to live like this. Seeing the kids so happy (when they receive beds) running out to the truck and wanting to help…that’s what makes me happy because I started the program wanting to help kids.”

I asked Jessica what advice she offers to those hoping to successfully start their own outreach for those who are in some way vulnerable. “Find a group of people that are willing to support you and believe in your passion,” she said. “Get the word out. People are willing to help with anything that involves kids.”

Lynn Whittaker, Jessica’s grandmother who has a pivotal role in all she does, shared how someone needing a bed for a child can proceed: “We ask that our families contact the family resource or youth service center coordinator at their child’s school for a referral. This does two things. It confirms that the child exists and there is a need. It also connects the family with the center. Chances are, if they need a bed, they have other needs, also.”

To learn more about A Place to Sleep, call 502-633- 2693 or 502-321-7116 to leave a message. Also, visit the web site www.aplacetosleepministry.org or the Facebook page.

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Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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