HUNTINGTON — In West Virginia, there are nearly 7,000 children within the state’s foster care system.
Matching that many children with loving homes is a daunting challenge on its own, but it’s complicated even more in that while they may have a home in which to stay at night, they don’t have anywhere to sleep.
There simply are not enough beds for West Virginia’s foster children — leaving many to sleep on couches, the floor or any spot they can claim for themselves.
Foster children are not allowed to share beds with others or be placed in a home without an available bed, per the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, meaning some potential homes (like relatives) who could house those children are not permitted because they do not have a spare bed for them.
But a new project organized by parishioners at St. Joseph Catholic Church, with manpower from the Cabell County Career Technology Center, is helping build more peaceful, normal nights in the grand scheme of a foster child’s life.
Dubbed the Gemini Bed Project, the church has since early August steadily bought and dropped off around $4,000 worth of lumber to the career center in Huntington. Students in the school’s Building Technology program construct simple bed frames and headboards, which are then picked up by parishioners who provide the mattress, pillows and bed linens. The beds are then distributed by WVDHHR to individual children, who own the bed themselves and can move with it between foster homes.
“It’s just not right; every child deserves a bed,” said Jim Jeffrey, a St. Joe parishioner who organized the project with his wife, Terry.
The name “Gemini” was coined by St. Joe’s Monsignor Dean Borgmeyer as a play on “Jim and I,” referring to Jeffery, and a reference to the twin-sized beds themselves. A similar project was already in place at C3 Church in South Point, which loaned its bed designs to St. Joe for the project.
Each bed costs about $200 to complete, funded by donations from regular parishioners with support from the church and Catholic Charities. So far, the Gemini project has produced 20 beds, though the request for more beds mounts by around four to seven more each week, Jeffrey said. As of now, WVDHHR is asking for between 40 and 50 more beds as the need grows.
Most of the beds stay local, having primarily gone to children in Cabell, Wayne and Lincoln counties, with some in Putnam and Kanawha counties.
It’s a simple necessity most take for granted, but it’s hopefully a valuable source of refuge for the children who receive them, Jeffrey said.
“This, I hope, can be someplace where they can find some rest and some peace and just a good night’s sleep,” he added.
Lending a hand with their unique trade skills is nothing new for the students at the Cabell County Career Technology Center. In recent years, the handy high-schoolers have built a Habitat for Humanity home from scratch, participated in the “Tiny Houses” housing project for West Virginia flood victims, and even remodeled the Marshall University men’s basketball locker room.
Banging out bed frames is a fairly quick and simple task for Bret Masters’ Building Technology students, but it’s a humbling lesson in itself.
“These kids have really big hearts, and a lot of them … come from displaced families, so they can appreciate the true meaning of this,” Masters said.
“I know it’s not going to make a total difference, but if it gives a child a place to sleep, that’s one less thing they have to worry about.”