WBRP Bed Blitz gains unexpected attention

Olivia Jacobs

Karen Schmidt with ARC students at the WBRP
Photo: Illinois Wesleyan University

The West Bloomington Revitalization Project’s (WBRP) Bed Blitz program was recently featured nationally during the Drew Barrymore Show on CBS. Illinois Wesleyan’s Action Research Center (ARC) students helped build beds for local kids as part of the program. 

The WBRP’s mission and vision involve building a resourceful and responsive community, improving the lives of residents and helping to provide the resources needed to achieve that. The WBRP also gives students the opportunity to experience the vitality of action research and the collaborative nature of problem-solving.

Both WBRP Director Karen Schmidt and former President Deborah Halperin expressed their gratitude for the national recognition of the Bed Blitz program.

“Having this national recognition is affirming to our work, and also sends the message that this kind of program can be replicated anywhere if the vision and will are there,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said this honor is helping people understand the specific purpose of the Bed Blitz and the needs of the children who receive a bed. It is also shining a light on the national need for beds for the estimated 1.5-2 million children who have no bed or who share a bed every night. 

Since appearing on the show, the WBRP has heard from as far away as California with people asking how they can help and offering donations for other programs besides the Bed Blitz including the Book Bike, the Tool Library, The Bike Co-op, the community gardens and several others.

“National and local attention brings awareness to the need and the solution. It shows that we have kids who need beds and we have a way to meet that need. It invites people to be part of the solution,” Halperin said.

The WBRP is located on West Washington Street.
Photo: Samira Kassem

Halperin previously taught the ARC class, but Schmidt took over this semester and had the students help build the beds. The class, however, has faced challenges due to the pandemic. The opportunities for direct community engagement and the compressed semester has made it more challenging for students to fully develop their independent research projects which are the focus of the seminar. Schmidt said that it has definitely been a different experience, but that she is constantly impressed by the students in the class who are quickly adapting and finding new ways to navigate this project.

“Working on these beds this semester gave them a chance to dive into a program and contribute strongly to the outcome. Each student brought a different skill set to the bed build–some know their power tools, some bring planning experience and some easily learned new carpentry skills. I know who to call next time I need to make a run to Ikea,” Schmidt said.

Robert Bosquez, another director for the WBRP, helps run the Bed Blitz program and volunteers. Bosquez was the one who shared the news about being featured on CBS with the board via email which Schmidt described as his “usual, low-key way,” of sharing exciting news.

“He [Bosquez] is the perfect spokesperson for the Bed Blitz because he speaks from the heart. He gives so generously and authentically that he can’t help but draw people to his ideas. Good energy attracts good energy,” Halperin said. 

Bosquez has helped build over 400 beds for children since the Bed Blitz program started in 2019. The bed children receive includes a twin-size bed frame, a brand new mattress, sheets, pillows, a blanket or quilt, laundry detergent, books, a hygiene kit and a teddy bear.
“It’s two-fold: I love seeing the children and families with their completed beds and bedding, books and stuffed animals; and experiencing the joy and focus that our community brings to building these beds together,” Schmidt said. 

Junior Wah Chook, who is one of many students who has volunteered with Robert, shared her experiences working with the Bed Blitz program and the WBRP. 

“Bed Blitz is one of my all-time favorite ways to serve. I helped put together an operations manual for the program when I interned with WBRP one summer. Robert was wonderful to work with, I saw his willingness to serve and his longtime eagerness to be a support for the Bloomington Community,” Chook said. 

Halperin said her favorite part about the Bed Blitz program was the fact that a team of caring people moved forward with a simple idea and now it has grown. She said you don’t have to design something huge to make a difference, you can start with an effort that makes sense and go from there; a lot of WBRP programs are the elevation of a person from the neighborhood being willing to give their talents and skills.

“The person who gardens starts the community garden, the guy who fixes bikes starts the bike co-op, the librarian who loves books starts the book bike and the man who likes to build things makes beds for kids. A lot of good things happen when people extend who they are with the larger neighborhood. I love that about the Westside and the WBRP,” Halperin said.