It was Christmas in spring for the students of Craighead Elementary School in Mobile, as 75 third-graders found out they were each receiving their own new bed delivered right to their homes.
The donation was made possible through a partnership with the Alabama Extension Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education department (SNAP-Ed), 1915 South, and the Hope to Dream program.
The Hope to Dream Program is Ashley Furniture’s charitable program that provides beds to children in need nationwide. Additionally, 1915 South is a subsidiary of Ashley, operating in five stores throughout Alabama.
The idea originated with Mobile County SNAP-Ed Educator Antoinette Hamilton, who conducts several wellness classes each year at Craighead Elementary. The classes use a combination of theory-driven instruction, technology and evidence-based approaches to prevent and reduce childhood obesity.
Hamilton said her classes are high-energy and 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 connected with Latious Lamar, general manager of the Ashley Furniture HomeStore in Mobile, to discuss a partnership. Hamilton wanted 75 beds to donate to students at Craighead Elementary.
When she officially got the news that the donations were approved, Hamilton said it was exhilarating.
“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 was eager to work with the Hope to Dream program as 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.”
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 led the students in physical activities before sharing 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 and hoped they would be an inspiration to her students.
After lunch, the doors opened to the Craighead Elementary gymnasium and students were 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 is the parent of a third-grader. She 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,” Todd said.
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,” Hunter said. “Just to see them come through the doors and see what the big surprise was, moved me to tears.”
Hunter 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.
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