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UW-Stout construction students, donor collaborate with nonprofit Sleep in Heavenly Peace to build beds for children

Women in Construction students organize effort to support the community

By Abbey Goers, UW Stout

With nearly one in 10 children in Dunn County living in poverty, a team of University of Wisconsin-Stout students and a local nonprofit chapter has built 25 twin beds to help meet children’s basic needs for their physical, emotional and mental support.

The Women in Construction student organization invited volunteers of Sleep in Heavenly Peace to a build event at the university’s Construction Lab this spring. Don and Peggy Qually, of Menomonie, sponsored the event with a gift to SHP.

Ellie Becker, an upcoming senior in UW-Stout’s construction management program and president of the student organization, helped organize and manage the event.

“I was 100% on board with the idea because it seemed like a good way to get students involved with one another while giving back to the community,” she said.

Becker, of St. James, Minn., reached out to SHP’s Dunn County Chapter President Mary Bygd to talk about a collaboration between their groups. Bygd invited the student organization board members to a local bed delivery in Menomonie, where volunteers built two bunk beds and a twin bed.

“We were overwhelmed with the rewarding feeling of giving back to a local family who had no beds for their children,” Becker said. “We wanted to implement the idea of bringing a build day to UW-Stout. The process was long but quite simple with the right communication between the Women in Construction, UW-Stout advisers and Sleep in Heavenly Peace members.”

Bygd, a retired health care administrator, worked at Mayo Clinic for more than 34 years and has been a member of the Menomonie Lions Club for 19 years. In 2019, a Lions Club member invited Sleep in Heavenly Peace to a club meeting and asked if anyone would be interested in starting a chapter in Dunn County.

“It immediately got me excited, and so I quickly raised my hand,” Bygd said, adding that the founding of the chapter was delayed because of the pandemic. It hosted its first bed build in August 2021. Since then, it has delivered 158 beds to local children and families in need.

Twelve of the beds built at UW-Stout have been delivered thus far to four homes. The other beds will be delivered when the need is identified by SHP. Children also receive a new mattress, bedding and pillows.

One fully furnished bed costs $250 to build and deliver, and each is possible with the support of donated sponsorships, like the Qually’s.

Giving back to their community

For the build day, Women in Construction reached out to other student organizations and classes to promote the event, including students in the construction program, the Student Interior Design Organization and UW-Stout’s Honors College.

They were joined by Bygd, the Quallys and other community volunteers and philanthropists, as well as faculty and university leadership, including Chancellor Katherine Frank and John Buss, instrument shop supervisor in the engineering and technology department, who prepared the Construction Lab for the build.

The team cut, sanded, stained and constructed all of the wood components before installing the beds in the applicant families’ homes.

“Ellie and her team are a wonderful example of this generation giving back to their community,” Bygd said. “Since we typically build outdoors, having an inside option at UW-Stout was perfect. I can’t thank Ellie and UW-Stout leadership enough for opening the Construction Lab for us.”

Bygd believes she’s had a fortunate life and a successful career and never had to struggle to make ends meet. But she has known people who struggled and lived paycheck to paycheck.

“The thought that children in our community do not have their own bed to sleep in pulls at my heartstrings. Sleep in Heavenly Peace was created to address this issue in any community,” she said. “My personal reward is working with a great team of people and all of the volunteers I’ve met along the way. People are so generous. The bonus reward is seeing the kids’ and families’ faces when their babies have a beautiful bed to sleep in.

“One family of five kids and a mom who escaped a domestic violence home was particularly meaningful to me. The kids were old enough to help carry in the bed materials and helped put everything together in the house. When we left, the mom thanked and hugged each of us with tears in her eyes and every one of those kids did the same. That is my ‘why.’”

SHP was founded in 2021 and has built and delivered in excess of 200,000 beds. There are more than 370 chapters in 45 states, and it is growing in Canada, Bermuda and the Bahamas. Studies by Harvard University, the National Science Foundation, Auburn University and the Better Sleep Council have reported on the effects that lack of sleep can have on children.

The Women in Construction student organization is new at UW-Stout and was approved last December. It currently has 20 members of all genders. Board members, along with Becker, include Vice President Rorie Boettcher, of Eau Claire; Treasurer Marissa Harmon, of Colfax; Secretary Adrianne Krueger, of Superior; Public Relations Manager Ellie Senn, of Fall Creek; and construction Program Director Kevin Wilkinson, who serves as the organization adviser.

What Becker enjoys most about construction is seeing the step-by-step building process, having the hands-on experience, and using sustainable and green building practices.

This summer, she is interning with Hensel Phelps in the Pacific Northwest and may have a co-op opportunity in the fall with another company to build a more well-rounded experience before graduating in May 2025.

“After graduation, I plan on signing on full-time with a company that aligns with my values, offers great growth development opportunities and allows me to make an impact with my education,” she said.

To younger female students looking to enter traditionally male career fields, such as construction, Becker said, “You have every right to pursue a career you are passionate about; you’re just as capable as anyone else.”

UW-Stout, a member of the Universities of Wisconsin, is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes. Learn more via the FOCUS2030 strategic plan.


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