Gary Burns

Just before he retired from his job as a manager at the LyondellBasell chemical company, Gary Burns happened to see a CNN special featuring the founder of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, a nationwide non-profit group with a mission to build beds for every child who doesn’t have one.

After retiring in 2018, Burns attended a training session for the non-profit and, by that fall, helped build 20 beds for Houston-area children. He hasn’t stopped building.

“Before, for charity, I would just write a check,” Burns said. At Sleep in Heavenly Peace, “you can do something with your hands and you can bring the beds to the children and see their faces. It’s a lot more fulfilling than just writing a check.”

Of course, checks help, too. It’s how the nonprofit pays for the lumber for the beds, which are built by volunteers.

In addition to donations, an indoor space for storage and a covered space to build beds would help the chapter meet demand in the area where they place the most beds: the Spring Branch area.

Burns said most of the builds are done in Katy because that’s where he lives. But they’ve run out of space for storage and they would also like to build the beds closer to where the need is.

“Of our 20 zip codes covered, we deliver the most beds to 77055, followed by 77080,” Burns said.

While Burns’ chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace — Houston Central West — covers an area from downtown Houston to Fulshear, a warehouse space in the Spring Branch would be a game-changer, Burns said.

“We currently must set up and tear down after every bed build, which would be eliminated if we can work out of a building,” he said. “This would be huge for us.”

Burns and his group are seeking the use of about 3,500 square feet of space in the Spring Branch District area. A warehouse with a garage door for lumber deliveries would be ideal.

“We need an indoor space to securely store tools, but we could perform the ‘dustiest’ activities, such as sanding, in a covered outdoor space, such as (under) a canopy,” Burns said.

With an indoor space to build, Burns said, “we can immediately increase our production of beds by 160 beds per year, or 40+ percent.”

“We delivered 379 beds in 2021, but are unable to build beds in the summer due to heat. With a sheltered space we could produce at least 540 beds per year by building beds 12 months a year,” Burns said.

Luke Mickelson started the nonprofit in Twin Falls, Idaho, and the organization now has nearly 300 chapters nationwide.

Recently, Sleep in Heavenly Peace was featured in the Houston Chronicle for the organization’s support of Afghan refugee families resettled here.

The nonprofit organized an event in partnership with the Houston Furniture Bank and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, in which volunteers in two locations built and later assembled more than 100 new beds.

“When Sleep in Heavenly Peace delivers a bed for a child, we’re not only providing them a bed of their own to sleep in, we’re also providing a measure of dignity and a sense of well-being, too,” Burns said. One of the positive effects of this, he said, is better outcomes in school.

Burns said about 2 to 3 percent of children in the United States don’t have a bed. In some areas near Spring Branch, he said, the percentage is in the double digits.

“That’s tens of thousands of kids in the Houston area alone,” he said. “An indoor (warehouse) space would be huge,” Burns said, “because it would allow us to fulfill our mission much better.”

The mission: “No Kid Sleeps on the Floor in Our Town”

Sleep in Heavenly Peace Houston Central West

— By Dorothy Puch Lillig