For Novi mother-of-two Leah Gawel, she knows that a bad night of sleep can ruin a child's day. So, like many moms, whenever her children were on the road, she made sure they had everything they needed for a good night's rest — like their favorite blanket and teddy bear.
But for many homeless children in Michigan, these comforting possessions are only a dream.
Gawel helps bring a good night's sleep to thousands of homeless children by running the Michigan chapter of Project Night Night. The non-profit provides homeless children with a tote bag filled with a book, a blanket and a stuffed animal.
"Everybody knows if you have crummy sleep, you have a crummy day. And for these kids who are already facing so many challenges...they need a chance to be successful," she said.
Gawel helps out with the charity from home. She collects donations, puts the tote bags together and then distributes them to shelters. She said that PNN gives to shelters across the state of Michigan - not just in Detroit.
"Our thought is that since we can't fix homelessness, what we can do is help children transition from shelter to shelter by giving them the instruments they need," she said.
PNN was founded by Kendra Stitt Robins, who continues to direct volunteers from San Francisco to Cleveland. Now in its sixth year, Project Night Night gives more than 25,000 bags a year across the country.
Gawel was introduced to the non-profit five years ago by her sister, who manages the Ohio branch.
Gawel said she can easily fit the volunteer work into her daily life, having her children and neighbors all help out.
And she knows they are making a difference.
"Every once in a while when you get a thank you card or a note from the shelters back, the children say things like 'This is the first thing I own that I can write my name in. The first thing I don't have to share.' And it really touches you," she said.
How to help
Gawel said PNN is always in need of help, and people can do so in many ways.
Here's how you can help:
- Donate $20 online to sponsor an entire Nigh Night package
- Buy a Project Night Night tote online and fill it yourself. Drop it off at Gawel's house or at a local shelter.
- Donate a new throw blanket
- Donate flannel or fleece fabric for the volunteers to make into blankets
- Donate a new stuffed animal (smaller than 18 inches)
- Donate a new book (ages 0 to pre-teen and non-holiday)
You can drop off donations at Gawel's house at 22655 Heatherbrae Way in Novi, or email her for more information at Leah@ProjectNightNight.org.
Gawel said anything donated in Michigan will go to children in Michigan.
"What I like about it is that everything you give goes directly to a child," she said. "I can tell you where it goes, and I know it did because I did it."
Editor's note: Do you know someone making a difference? Nominate them to be profiled by emailing email@example.com.