Student, University Volunteers Build 44 Beds for Community Children in Need

The number 44 holds a special significance on the Syracuse University campus, and in true University fashion, 44 children in the City of Syracuse will soon receive new beds and bedding—some for the first time—through a project that has touched the hearts and hands of several dozen University students, staff and organizational volunteers.

The 108 volunteers gathered on Feb. 23 at Skybarn on South Campus for a three-hour workshop to sand, drill and assemble wooden bunk beds. The group included 86 University students, 11 staff, faculty and retirees, plus 11 other members of the Syracuse chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP).

four students working on drilling wooden boards
Student volunteers work on drilling boards as part of the SHP bed assembly work. (Photos by Amelia Beamish)

SHP, whose mantra is “No Kid Sleeps on the Floor in Our Town,” is one of 270 chapters nationwide. The organization’s mission is to build and deliver new beds and bedding to children who may have been sleeping on a couch or the floor, and who, in many cases, have never had a bed of their own.

The Syracuse SHP group has partnered with the Shaw Center for Public and Community Service—the University’s hub for academic community engagement—for several years. Though the chapter has built and delivered 4,564 beds to Syracuse-area children since it began in 2018, 870 kids are still on the waitlist. SHP leaders say 76% of the beds built here will go to children who live within two miles of campus.

Friday’s event was organized by Syracuse University Volunteer Organization (SUVO) president Claire Ceccoli ’25, a dual public relations and psychology major from Norwalk, Ohio. She says this is the first time in a decade that SUVO has initiated a large-scale volunteer project, and it’s one that seemed to resonate with everyone who heard about it.

“Hundreds of children in Syracuse are currently sleeping on the floor. We often take a bed for granted, but it can have such an impact on one’s overall physical and mental health,” Ceccoli says. “A bed is not something I’ve ever given a second thought. I crawl into my bed when I’m sick, need a safe place or want some alone time. SHP’s goal of providing children who need but don’t have that safe space is such a worthy mission that I’m humbled and honored to leverage student resources to help a community partner.”

students working on sanding boards
In a different area, student volunteers sand boards.

Student Engagement advisors Karrie Catalino and Mackenzie Jackson encouraged Ceccoli to bring the bed-building initiative to campus. Planning began in September 2023. Ceccoli applied for Student Association funding and SUVO was awarded nearly $12,000 to cover the costs of all materials and bedding. Once SUVO started promoting the event, volunteers eagerly signed on, including Phanstiel Scholars, Our Time Has Come Scholars and Kessler Scholars. Others reached out, too, including the University’s Brighten a Day unit, the Construction Management Club and Jonathan French, associate teaching professor and undergraduate director in the chemistry department in the College of Arts and Sciences, Ceccoli says.

Past and Current Employees

Several current and retired University employees are involved as volunteers with SHP and have been instrumental in the local chapter’s efforts. In 2018, employees Jon Wright, now retired from Information Technology Services, and Jeff Pitt ’91, director of information technology services at the College of Arts and Sciences, formed the chapter and still serve as its co-presidents. Back then, they approached Dave Hoalcraft ’85 to join them. A 36-year University employee who retired in 2021, Hoalcraft now volunteers as SHP’s shop manager and bed-building trainer.

three people giving the thumbs-up sign
SHP-Syracuse volunteers Dave Hoalcraft, left, a retired University employee and Jeff Pitt, right, a current employee, worked with SUVO president and student Claire Ceccoli to lead the project.

Pitt says he likes that SHP fulfills two needs in the community. “One is the obvious one of providing a warm, comfortable place to sleep for children in need. The second is subtler: providing an outlet for people who want to give back to the community but who don’t know how to get started.”

Hoalcraft says the group’s mission “was a direct bullseye for me [so] I jumped right in. I am ‘Forever Orange,’ so doing a bed build with students on campus means a lot to me. I get to help a lot of kind people build beds for children in our community and ultimately help get children their own beds. It is awesome that Syracuse University students give back directly to the children in the community where [the students] live.”

On-Campus Spark

This is the first time SHP has held a mobile bed build on campus, and Ceccoli thinks the location has been key to the success of the event. “I think it can sometimes be intimidating for students to get off campus,” she says. “SUVO is seeking to connect students to the community and to inspire them to volunteer by making this opportunity accessible. We hope they will continue beyond this event to help SHP build or deliver more beds.” SUVO plans to provide students with information about additional volunteer opportunities.

“This is a beautiful testament to the interest and passion Syracuse University students have for community engagement,” Ceccoli says. “I want to work in the nonprofit sector. This is so real for me and to think of the impact we’ll be making on these children’s lives and their families’ lives while amplifying SHP’s mission is wonderful. Quite literally, I’d do this for the rest of my life.”

two women posed together
Claire Ceccoli with Kathryn Bradford, Shaw Center employee and SUVO advisor

Kathryn Bradford ’06, Shaw Center administrative coordinator and SUVO advisor, says she is extremely proud of how Ceccoli used knowledge from her classes and her Shaw Center leadership development intern experience to take the project from idea to reality through diligence, passion and positivity. “Hopefully this experience will encourage more students to participate in community engagement as a continuing part of their educational experience and beyond,” Bradford says.

This article was originally published February 26, 2024 by Diane Stirling here.