Flint, MI—The sound of machinery hummed through Accelerated Learning Academy’s (ALA) gym, during Flint Community Schools’ intersession. In the gym, volunteers donned “Bunks Across America” t-shirts, aprons and safety glasses, building beds for Genesee County students in need.

Maurtrell Rushton, a 10th grader at ALA, said it had been a fun day working alongside his peers. Participating in the Bunks Across America event gave him the chance to do something new as he helped build beds from scratch for the first time.  

“I don’t need a bed,” Rushton said, “but it’s nice to put our work into helping other people.”

The Bunks Across America event took place at Accelerated Learning Academy on Sept. 9, 2022. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)

The Community Education Initiative, led by Crim Fitness Foundation, hosted the Sept. 9, 2022 event in partnership with ALA and Sleep in Heavenly Peace of Flushing, which is a local chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, a national nonprofit organization that builds, assembles and delivers beds to children in need.

This is the first year for the Community Education Initiative to host Bunks Across America. Those who took part included more than 50 scholars, teachers and staff from ALA and Southwestern Classical Academy, Sleep in Heavenly Peace of Flushing’s volunteers, and community health workers from the Genesee Health Plan. 

Melissa Koronka, a science teacher at Accelerated Learning Academy (ALA), sands down a bed frame during the Bunks Across America event at ALA on Sept. 9, 2022. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)

“I’m really proud of our students [for] how hard they’re working,” said Melissa Koronka, a science teacher at ALA. “They’re having fun too.”

Bunks Across America, a nationwide event, also served as an opportunity for Flint Community Schools’ students to get some community service hours in. Each scholar at the school district is required to fulfill a total of 125 hours of community service hours to graduate. 

“We want to give our students here learning service opportunities for them to be able to gain skills and knowledge to take with them when they leave here,” said Shonta Price, ALA’s community school director, “but also give students across the Genesee County area bedding and beds so they don’t have to sleep on the floor.”

Chude Snow, a 10th grader at Accelerated Learning Academy (ALA), sands down a bed frame during the Bunks Across America event at ALA on Sept. 9, 2022. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)
People enjoy pizza for lunch during the Bunks Across America event at Accelerated Learning Academy on Sept. 9, 2022. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)
Volunteers take a lunch break during the Bunks Across America event at Accelerated Learning Academy on Sept. 9, 2022. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)

Since Karen Gasperosky founded Sleep in Heavenly Peace of Flushing with her late friend Jody Dean in 2020, it has delivered a total of 102 beds to children in Genesee, Shiawassee and Tuscola counties. Currently, the local chapter has a waitlist of close to 200 children, and fulfilling every child’s needs this year just isn’t possible, Gasperosky explained. She said Sleep in Heavenly Peace of Flushing built 92 beds last year and 30 have been completed this year, with another 30 partially completed during the event on Sept. 9, 2022. It plans to complete another 20 to 30 beds on Oct. 1, 2022.

Ned DeGalan, a volunteer at Sleep in Heavenly Peace of Flushing, handles a bed frame that is soaked in a stain during the Bunks Across America event at Accelerated Learning Academy on Sept. 9, 2022. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)
Chude Snow, a 10th grader at Accelerated Learning Academy (ALA), drills a nail into a bed frame during the Bunks Across America event at ALA on Sept. 9, 2022. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)
A bed frame soaks in stain during the Bunks Across America event at Accelerated Learning Academy on Sept. 9, 2022. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)
Stained bed frames dry under the sun during the Bunks Across America event at Accelerated Learning Academy on Sept. 9, 2022. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)

When it comes to the staining process of the bed frames, Ned DeGalan, a volunteer at Sleep in Heavenly Peace of Flushing, said they are stained in white vinegar and steel wool. When the stain dries, it leaves a brown finish on the frames, which are made of natural pinewood. The vinegar remains in the wood for years, repelling bedbugs without posing a health hazard to the bed’s user, DeGalan explained.

Preslie Riggs, daughter of Virginia Riggs who is a community health worker at Accelerated Learning Academy (ALA), drills a hole in a bed frame during the Bunks Across America event at ALA on Sept. 9, 2022. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)

Providing beds for children in need creates a ripple effect on their lives, Gasperosky noted.

“It’s more than the bed itself,” she said. “It helps with so many other things for the child as well.”

“They get a better night’s sleep, which means that they can function better during the day,” Gasperosky continued. “They do better in school. They do better in sports. It improves their self-esteem.” 

With roughly a dozen volunteers at the local chapter, Sleep in Heavenly Peace of Flushing is seeking to boost that number of volunteers. 

“We are desperately in need of more volunteers,” Gasperosky said. “Our chapter needs to grow so that we can be more efficient.” 

Stacks of bed frames as seen at the Bunks Across America event at Accelerated Learning Academy on Sept. 9, 2022. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)
Student volunteers Maurtrell Rushton, Zacaria Aleman, Serenity Rankins, and Saniyah Guthery pose for a portrait during the event Bunks Across America at Accelerated Learning Academy on Sept. 9, 2022. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)
Volunteers drill nails into a bed frame during the Bunks Across America event at Accelerated Learning Academy on Sept. 9, 2022. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)
Karen Gasperosky, cofounder of Sleep in Heavenly Peace of Flushing, instructs Maurtrell Rushton, a 10th grader at Accelerated Learning Academy (ALA), during the Bunks Across America event at ALA on Sept. 9, 2022. (Nicholas Chan | Nicholas Chan)
Treveon Wilson, an 11th grader at Accelerated Learning Academy (ALA), sands down a bed frame during the Bunks Across America event at ALA on Sept. 9, 2022. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)

As DeGalan reflected on the Bunks Across America event at ALA, he praised the volunteers for their hard work. For the children who will be receiving the beds and bedding, he noted that the volunteers’ effort truly goes a long way.

“I am impressed with the students and their teachers,” DeGalan said. “Man, that’s the kind of spirit we need.”

“The things that you and I would take for granted, a simple thing like a bed, for a kid that doesn’t have one, it’s like Christmas,” he added. “It’s just unreal how excited a kid can get about a bed. That in a way is heartbreaking and in another way, it’s like man are we doing the right thing.”

Visit Sleep in Heavenly Peace’s website for more information on volunteering, donations and sponsorship opportunities.

Nicholas Chan

Nicholas is Flint Beat’s public health and education reporter. He joins the team as he graduates from Santa Clara University, Calif. Nicholas has previously reported on dementia and brain health, as...

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