Shawnee Dispatch

Sleep-in-a-box event raises awareness, funds at SMNW

Rachel Gunkel and Ariel Rhines construct their sleeping quarters during Shawnee Mission Northwest’s Sleep-in-a-Box fundraiser Monday evening. Students and adult sponsors slept in boxes on the school’s track to raise money for Shalom House. Enlarge photo

April 21, 2010

More than 150 Shawnee Mission Northwest students spent Monday night in cardboard boxes.

Nine student groups came together to sponsor the annual Sleep-in-a-Box fundraiser to benefit Shalom House, a men’s homeless shelter in Johnson County.

In the past the fundraiser has brought in nearly $8,000, and this year shouldn’t be any different, said Sarah Dent, the SMNW teacher helping to organize the event.

“We use the event to raise awareness about the situation of the homeless,” Dent said. “We try to make students aware of the responsibility of the community to provide support to people who are less fortunate.”

Emily Ferbezar, SMNW senior and student coordinator for the event, said Sleep-in-a-Box was a way for students to reflect on the issue of homelessness.

“It’s great to see how much we can contribute to the cause,” she said.

The project allowed students to step outside of their comfort zone and simulate what it’s like to be homeless, Dent said.

“It’s a highly structured situation, but what other time are they going to sleep outside in a box in any weather,” she said.

Students provided their own boxes for the event and were asked to make at least a $40 donation to participate.

Emily said some students donated the money themselves while others collected donations from the community.

About 8 p.m. Monday, students trickled onto the SMNW track.

For the first hour or so James Davidson, director of Shalom House, and a few residents talked to students.

Emily said the speakers had a lot to offer students.

“They talked about how Shalom House helped them but also gave words of advice to students about having a plan for yourself,” she said. “Those were good words to hear.”

Dent said hearing from Davidson and the men were a great opportunity to help put life into perspective for students.

“What kids get from that speech is that these are normal, everyday people,” Dent said. “They just end up homeless. It kind of instills the belief that this could happen to anyone, not just a particular group of people.”

After the speeches students enjoyed smores, while they wrote a letter, note or journal entry reflecting on their experiences.

For every five students that participated, one sponsor over the age of 21 was present, Dent said. Security guards also were on hand for the evening.

In addition, the student groups fund a large Deffenbaugh recycling bin to collect boxes the following day. Dent said some cardboard boxes also were donated to local Girl Scout troops for forts.

Participating student campers received breakfast in the morning.

Although many SMNW student groups are involved with the event, it is not sponsored by the Shawnee Mission School District. A district policy adopted almost two years ago does not allow overnight events, Dent said.

However, overnight events still can take place on school grounds after the purchase of an insurance policy. For the past two years the Lenexa Rotary Club has donated the insurance policy for the event.

“When we thought we were going to lose the event, we talked with Shalom House and realized how much the support meant to them,” Dent said. “We were told that the money we brought in is a significant percentage of their annual operating budget.”

Emily said the event was a great way for students to realize the plight of the homeless.

“I want all the kids to realize how fortunate and blessed we are,” she said. “It’s more than the awareness that people do sleep in boxes and don’t have warm beds to go home to or showers to take in the morning. It’s awareness of people outside our own little world.”

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