4 min read
orange balloons, several beds in gym

MOBILE, Ala. – The suspense grew and grew Saturday afternoon at Craighead Elementary School in Mobile. Suspicions were eventually met with screams of joy as 75 third-grade students learned they were getting their own twin Sealy mattress, frame and bedding ensemble to be delivered to their home.

These beds were donated to the students by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed) department through a partnership with Ashley Furniture’s Hope to Dream program and 1915 South. The Hope to Dream Program is Ashley’s charitable program that provides beds to children in need nationwide. 1915 South is a subsidiary of Ashley Furniture, operating in five Ashley Homestores throughout Alabama.

On a Mission

Mobile County SNAP-Ed Educator Antoinette Hamilton conducts several Body Quest classes each year at Craighead Elementary. Body Quest is a statewide effort that employs a combination of theory-driven classroom instruction, technology and evidence-based approaches to prevent and reduce childhood obesity. Hamilton said her classes are high energy, meant to keep students alert throughout the lessons. However, she noticed that many students were sleepy and not fully engaged in the class.

“Students commonly say that they are up all night because they have to share beds with siblings or sleep on the floor or an air mattress, and it’s very uncomfortable,” Hamilton said.

Knowing how important sleep is to overall health, Hamilton made it her mission to find a way to help these students get better sleep. In April 2021, Hamilton learned about the Hope to Dream Program and felt it was the perfect opportunity. She connected with Latious Lamar, general manager of the Ashley Furniture Homestore in Mobile, to discuss a partnership to donate 75 beds to students at Craighead Elementary. Hamilton said it was exhilarating when she learned the beds would be donated.

“It was amazing to know that we would be able to do something to help our community,” Hamilton said. “We were afforded an opportunity to improve a student’s quality of life by providing the means to sleep better.”

Lamar said his store wanted to get involved with the Hope to Dream program. While the program has operated within Ashley nationwide for several years, this was the first time the Mobile store would be involved.

“It was a no-brainer for us,” Lamar said. “To be able to give back to the community in this way — it was just something we knew we wanted to do.”

Building Suspense

Now that the beds were going to be donated, Hamilton worked with school officials to set up an educational event with a surprise reveal of the beds. Lamar worked with members of the University of South Alabama and Williamson High School football teams to help host and lead physical activity events for the children. The players tossed around a football, played Simon Says and Four Corners and eventually shared a healthy lunch with the students.

Devin Voison, a wide receiver for the University of South Alabama, said it was great to get into the community and connect with the children.

“We know that many of these children look up to us, and we want to be a solid example for them,” he said.

Hamilton said the older students brought with their visit a sense of community. Since students from Craighead Elementary feed into Williamson High School, it was an opportunity for the younger students to spend time with older students. Additionally, Hamilton hoped the South Alabama players would inspire the younger students.

Worth The Wait

After an hour of physical activity and then lunch, the stage was set for the children to finally learn about their surprise. As the doors opened to the Craighead Elementary gymnasium, students were first surprised, then overcome with excitement as many high-pitched screams filled the air when they saw 75 neatly made beds. Once the realization hit them, many sprinted to a bed and began jumping up and down with excitement.

Shileta Todd, a parent of a third grader, said she was just as surprised as her daughter.

“This means so much to these families because so many kids aren’t getting restful nights possibly because they may not have the ability to do so,” she said. “A great mattress and bedding are key to a good night’s sleep, which is the foundation for your entire day.”

Craighead Elementary Principal, Tracey Hunter said she has been emotional about this partnership from the beginning.

“I knew what this would mean for our children and the parents,” she said. “Just to see them come through the doors and see what the big surprise was, moved me to tears.”

Hunter said throughout her 29 years as an educator, she had always encouraged students to go to bed early, wake up on time and start the day on the right foot. She said Hamilton is vital in reinforcing those concepts.

“Ms. Hamilton teaches the students about enriching their mind, body and soul,” Hunter said. “The students are always engaged, and she makes it fun every time, which helps them remember what they learned when they go home.”

Lamar said the monetary donation is approximately $20,000 in terms of what Ashley Furniture donated to the cause. The beds were packed up Saturday by Ashley employees after the event and delivered to the students’ homes.

More Information

To contact Hamilton, call (251) 574-8445 or email her at ath0044@aces.edu. To find more success stories about SNAP-Ed educators, visit LiveWellAlabama.com.