Build a Bed Project Kicks Off Season of Giving

Tina Baptista experienced homelessness at 13 years old, when her father had passed away and her mother went to prison. “It was very difficult to get an education, to wake up not knowing where I’d be going to sleep the next night,” she shared in Hall on November 25. “On many days I didn’t have the opportunity to even go to school. I didn’t know if I would have food on the table when I got home. I often didn’t know where home would be the next night, but still I showed up. I went to school. I put my best foot forward, and I made sure that if there was anything that I had, it was an opportunity to better my life through an education.”

Ms. Baptista was RL’s second speaker in the school’s 375th anniversary Hall series focused on homelessness and poverty. Today, Ms. Baptista is the director of A Bed for Every Child, a program of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. Studies show that lack of sleep has a negative impact on a student’s concentration, memory, and ability to learn. Children who get more, high-quality sleep do better in math, science, and reading. Children who get little sleep are more likely to have behavioral problems, be prone to general moodiness, and have difficulty living up to their potential. A Bed for Every Child works with public schools and community organizations throughout Massachusetts to provide access to free, new, twin beds for children in need.

“Youth homelessness continues to rise in Massachusetts, and so does childhood poverty. At the Coalition and at A Bed for Every Child, we are putting children at the forefront, because we know these young people are our future educators. Children that are facing adversity—poverty, homelessness—deserve better. School was the stability in my young life; it was my safe haven. When I was given the opportunity to finish high school and go to Salem State University, it turned my life around. I realized the opportunities that education provided for me. I’m the third generation in my family growing up in poverty, and I’m so incredibly fortunate that as a young adult I have ended that cycle within my family, and it looks very good from here on out. We’re hoping to provide that same stability and sanctuary for children living in poverty, the chance to break the cycle, by the simple gift of a bed.”

After Ms. Baptista’s Hall presentation, the entire school went to the gymnasium where boys—in teams of four, across all grades—built 76 beds that will be donated to children in need. You can watch a video or view photos of the morning’s bed building project.

“As you’re building these beds,” Ms. Baptista concluded, “I want you to ask yourself: What is tomorrow like for me? What does a good night’s sleep mean for me tonight? and How can I continue to put my best foot forward? This morning you’re giving a child an opportunity to dream big.” To date, A Bed for Every Child has served more than 10,000 children across Massachusetts.

Ms. Baptista graduated from Salem State University with a bachelor’s degree in business management. She has worked with the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless since 2013, first as an advocate and later as a community organizer. Today she raises awareness through partnerships with local non-profits, educational institutions, and places of worship, and helps to support low-income communities through connections with corporations and businesses, big and small.

This Hall and service project was the second element in this year’s 375th anniversary focus on homelessness and poverty. Matt Desmond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the book Evicted, kicked off this series in October, and students have been considering these issues more closely in various ways throughout the fall. In Ms. Dromgoole’s Contemporary Global Issues class, groups of seniors researched different populations of homeless individuals, in Massachusetts and across the country—learning about the ways in which state programs succeed or fail in supporting homeless veterans, families, and youth. Students also participated in a holiday service drive, collecting socks, gloves, hats and hand warmers for the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, donating nearly 800 items, including 615 pairs of socks.