Bedz for Kidz

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Shafer Paid in Smiles & Hugs

One little girl was the inspiration to Cynthia Shafer to start Bedz for Kidz in 2001, to provide beds, sheets, stuffed animals and notes of encouragement to foster, abused and neglected children in Southwest Florida. “A grandmother wanted to foster her granddaughter,” Cynthia explained, “but the Foster Court would not allow it because the Division of Children & Families mandates that each child have their own bed. I ended up bringing her a bed right out of our own house, along with sheets, and she got to keep her granddaughter, and that is how it all began.”

Word of what Cynthia was doing soon spread throughout the Fort Myers Beach community and she almost immediate began to receive donations, particularly from condominiums, including gently-used bedding, “and the kids loved these because they smelled like coconut from sun tanning and screen lotions. It was priceless to see the kids bury their faces into them, breathe deeply and smile broadly! Everything we provide now is new, however, per the Department of Health, to prevent bedbugs. All new mattresses come wrapped in plastic, so that helps when we deliver in the rainy season. Many people who donate sheets and stuffed animals include as well an inspirational note to the kids.”

Sleeping In The Bathtub

Cynthia, a realtor with Lahaina Reality since 1994, is originally from Long Island. “I came south to attend the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, to earn my degree in Oceanography, and fell in love with Florida because it is sunny almost every day. Once I married my husband John, we moved to the Fort Myers area, as his family here goes back five generations. John is indispensable to Bedz for Kids because he helps me all the time in delivering the beds, sheets, stuffed animals and inspirational notes, as well as actually putting many of the beds together and taking care of everything when I travel, like I recently did to a realtor convention in San Francisco.” Sadly, Cynthia just lost one of her best helpers: “My sister Donna recently passed away, after being there with us for years and years.”

She became involved in children’s advocacy back in high school. “I was working with a Head Start child and she wondered aloud if she would be alive the next day because of the things her parents did to her and that opened my eyes that we all did not share the same life I had, to go to school and come home and be happy, and that all kids need a voice. From then on, I encouraged kids that if they needed to get high, get high on life, and no matter their circumstances, they had the power to make choices for their own benefit. Today, I have three desks at home and they overflow with ‘Thank You’ cards and drawings and every one of them is beautiful!”

Cynthia is also a longtime Guardian Ad Litem volunteer representing abused children. “These kids, many who are teenagers, have little self-esteem, as often no one has ever said anything positive to them. When we take them a bed and sheets, stuffed animal and a note, we always tell them uplifting things, like you are smart and beautiful and you can accomplish whatever you want in life.”

The Bedz for Kidz process begins for Cynthia and John each Thursday when Guardian Ad Litem sends them their list. “On Fridays, we assemble the beds and gather up all the sheets, stuffed animals and notes, and even some dressers we put together, then go to Jerry’s Tire & Auto Services on San Carlos Boulevard, who has donated a trailer to us for 18 years now. We load that up, including with cribs we put together on site, as they are too big to make it through many doors, then we make our deliveries throughout our five-county area over the weekend. One thing we learned over the years is never to buy foam mattresses, as a common occurrence for foster kids separated from their families is they are bed-wetters. When we give kids their new beds, some have never had one before! I recall one little girl who excitedly told me, ‘You mean I don’t have to sleep in the bathtub anymore!’ That kind of comment really puts life in perspective.”

Over her nearly two decades with Bedz for Kidz, “we have now helped between 3,000 to 4,000 children,” offered Cynthia. “To be honest, I don’t even know the exact number anymore, as we’ve stopped counting!”

The Bed Lady!

“I have been a childhood advocate for roughly 50 years,” offered Cynthia, “along with being with Guardian Ad Litem for 25 and now 18 years doing Bedz for Kidz, so many of the children we assisted are now grown-ups with children of their own. Every so often I run into one and they exclaim, ‘The Bed Lady,’ and give me a huge hug and say how much we changed their life. They go on to graduate high school and college, and we even attended the graduation of one from West Point! A young lady recently called me to say that we gave her a bed when she was a child, and now that she is in college, she is donating sheets and stuffed animals as her way to give back. I know some people value a big paycheck, but no one gets paid more than me – in smiles and hugs that touch your heart!”

Cynthia recalled one little boy “who suffered from burns from head-to-toe from his abusive father, and he needed a double bed to avoid doing his physical therapy on the floor. Not only did we get him that double bed but an end table, two lamps, and sheets full of sports figures, and he was so happy because ‘now I have a bedroom like everyone else!’ Moments like that make you want to cry but we steel ourselves not to, as we want to encourage children to remember they can make it through anything, and that motivation is as important as anything that we do.”

Almost as significant as the beds are the stuffed animals. “Often kids are separated from their parents in foster homes,” Cynthia stated. “If they tell us they really miss their mother, for example, we say they can talk to their stuffed animal just like they would to their mom, because even though he can’t answer you, he hears every word you say!”

Adds Up To A Bed

Bedz for Kidz referrals come not only from Guardian Ad Litem, but judges and hospitals. They serve the five-county area of Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee, though they can travel as far as Tampa and Miami. “If we cannot personally make those trips,” Cynthia explained, “Walmart graciously does those deliveries for us.”

While Cynthia receives Bedz for Kids assistance from many foundations, organizations, sororities and individuals, she paid special tribute to her Lahaina Realty colleagues. “They are phenomenal,” she gushed! “They host an annual March fundraiser for us, and often when our agents make a sale, they automatically make a donation. Our realtors are constantly giving us sheets and blankets, so we are so grateful to them!”

It costs roughly $60,000 annually for Bedz for Kidz to fulfil their mission, Cynthia stated. “We receive contributions from churches, foundations and other sources, along with groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution. It doesn’t matter if you can donate $5 or $1,000 as all those $5 donations add up to get some child a bed! If you would like donate, you can contact me directly at Cynthia.shafer@comcast.net, but put ‘Bedz for Kidz’ on your subject line, so I know to answer it promptly! You can do so as well through the Guardian Ad Litem Foundation at www.voicesforkids.org  as that is our 501c3 partner.”

With the Holiday season right around the corner, this is an especially busy time for Bedz for Kidz. “Unfortunately,” Cynthia said, “The holidays are when abandoned kids often overwhelm the system. Last year, we distributed nearly 50 beds during this time, and we always try to leave a holiday gift as well that guardians can give to the kids, to make Christmas more joyful. Sadly, that gift may be the only one they receive.”

For Cynthia, the most personally rewarding aspect of Bedz for Kidz “is the smiles on the faces of the children, not only when you first help them as youngsters, but when you run into them later in their lives and they tell you what an actual difference you made to them. Those interactions make me even more passionate about what we do, because having a safe and comfortable place to lay your head each night is basic human need taken for granted by too many of us. If you can help us to make this dream a reality, you will feel so good about yourself, because everything we do is for the kids!”