Editorial from the Board of Directors – Heather Allen’s Service to SHP
Written by Eldon Harston, Board Treasurer
Given the significance of the aforementioned announcement, we the Board feel it appropriate to offer some additional words. In many ways Heather’s introduction and ongoing experience with SHP was not at all unlike what hundreds of others who became involved also experienced.
In 2012 Heather was an active woman, with three young children under the age of eight and pregnant with another on the way. Getting a call late one night from her husband, saying “I’m going to Twin Falls tomorrow to help Luke build a bed”, in her words “came out of left field”! However, like many ‘Bunk-heads’ today, service was nothing unusual for her; Heather has held a personal goal since she was a very early teen of intentional, active participation in service to others. But there was a pull, even early on, to this effort that felt natural but also urgent and personal.
Jordan’s experience that day building a bed with Luke’s family was profound, and together Heather and Jordan joined the Michelson’s for another build soon after. The next year, Heather got another call from Jordan, “Hey, let’s do this in Boise”. Heather was all in – and so were their four kids, which is how it’s been ever since. From then on, the Michelson’s and the Allen’s drove back and forth some 280+ miles round trip between Twin Falls and Boise Idaho supporting each other and their respective builds. By the end of this second year the momentum their combined energies were creating in two different communities was evident. Heather noted this was the first time she realized, “we could really turn this into something”. In short order, Heather and Jordan officially started the Boise Chapter joining Luke and Heidi in a role that what would from then-on be known as Chapter Presidents.
Focus on the Applicant, not the Application
Very early, Heather recognized the value of organizing a process for applications and the bed deliveries. This was born from both the practical nature of her circumstance and the now germinating seeds from her past life experiences. Of helping her own kids at the builds, “I felt like I was always sweeping!”, Heather noted. While others owned the actual bed construction process, she recognized that the experience of the applicants and subsequent delivery were just as crucial. Heather began vetting applicants, making calls, asking questions, listening to humans in need – and hearing them, their pains, their frustrations, and their cries for help. “I would find people crying their hearts out – and I would cry along with them.” What she encountered, among so much else, were people grateful to be heard, to be listened to with no strings attached, no judgment – just someone, anyone, with a desire to hear and to help.
“I loved it”, Heather said speaking of these conversations with the parents, guardians, teachers, social workers and others. “It was something I could do.” Heather’s earlier background in Elementary education as well as time spent as an intern working with the Women and Children’s center prepared her in way’s she could not have anticipated. This pattern of gaining external experiences that would benefit Sleep in Heavenly Peace significantly continued through all her time with the organization. Over the years Heather developed the process of vetting applicants, which has been one of the foremost tools our Chapters have in helping to ensure they are finding and responding to children’s needs and, in many ways, to the hurting adults found with them. “It was about so much more than the bed…it’s the vetting component that makes the whole experience much more intimate, much more human”, Heather found.
Value of Networking
Heather believed she could accomplish even more by building networks in her community, particularly among those groups on the front lines seeing the need of children without beds. Reaching out to Health and Welfare, Women and Children’s centers, educators, law enforcement groups, civic organizations, and many more, she built out a local coalition that could help not only refer potential kids, but also help her screen to SHP standards.
Additionally, Heather noted, “This is one of the ways we stumbled onto a need that was not being fulfilled”. So many agencies were out there providing for various needs – but time and again for all the resources and programs – they had no place to turn to help a child who was sleeping on the floor until they encountered Sleep in Heavenly Peace. Over the more than three years the Allen’s served as Boise Chapter Presidents Heather and Jordan established beneficial partnerships with over forty-three community and state organizations. Heather’s belief that, “If you network the right way, the donations will follow” proved to be true and it also led to some of their most valued relationships and successes as a Chapter.
Bring it Home
These successes had implications closer to home as well. “I loved the early years with SHP and my kids so much”, Heather recalled. “The perspective it gave our own children…I saw that they were more grateful, less judgmental about people’s personal circumstances, they cared more about others around them, they developed an awareness of other’s needs outside of themselves.”
Indeed, the Allen’s have had to replace a lot of pillows over the years, as their kids seem to think giving away bedding to anyone in need is just ‘what you do’ now. Heather can tell you about coming home more than once and finding the pantry empty, her children using it as a store house to draw on for anyone they find in the school cafeteria that isn’t getting regular meals at home. Helping people is one thing, and certainly a reward unto itself, but finding that your own children can both see and respond to the needs of the people around them was an unexpected and tender surprise.
We’re doing this
By the end of 2013, it was clear to the Michelson’s that it was time to formally organize a non-profit charitable organization and they filled for and received 501(c)(3) status. Jordan and Heather continued working as Chapter Presidents in Boise, and as a surprise to absolutely no one, in 2014 were added as working board members of the Board of Directors by their friends Heidi and Luke (emphasis on ‘working’, which is the only way these four know how to be).
For two additional years Heather and Jordan continued in the dual role as Board Members and Chapter Presidents. As more Chapters began to join the movement, the need for formalized training around all the other aspects of being a successful chapter outside of building a bed became evident. Heather heard the call for help and accepted the position of SHP’s first Director of Training. Many will recall the monthly Zoom and in-person meetings she conducted to help both new and ‘established’ Chapter Presidents and volunteer teams. Fast tacking the lessons she and Jordan had learned first-hand helped these new Chapter’s quickly take up best practices and thrive as well.
About this time, in her personal life, Heather had an opportunity to go and work for an established local insurance agency, managing much of the group. How this kind of job opened for someone with no background in Insurance, is what we like to call an ‘SHP-ism’, or maybe life just has a way of preparing you for what is coming. Which-ever your perspective, the timing was clearly fortuitous for SHP. During her time there, she became licensed, learned the ins and outs of the industry, the language, as well as what is and isn’t possible with things insurance related. All the while SHP kept growing – quickly. The liability of an organization that seemed to think handing unskilled volunteers power tools on a weekly basis as ‘modus operandi’ was creating some very real situations and concerns.
SHP had long since become much more than a weekend hobby, and now demanded much more time and resources to help provide for the support of the Chapters and the sustainability of what was becoming a fair-sized company in its own right. To respond, the Allen’s turned over the Boise Chapter to the very capable hands of Liz and Jared Colton who continue today in that capacity.
Let my people go!
Along with the Michelson’s and others, Heather and Jordan turned their full attention to the management of SHP (in between careers, family, faith, and other community obligations). The mission that ‘No Kid Sleep on the Floor in Our Town’ was becoming many people’s mission. With new growth came new challenges and new needs to keep the Chapters so vital to the Mission able to function. SHP had a need, and again, Heather had been prepared to meet that need, felt the call to help, and stepped up willing and ready. To that end Heather volunteered again, this time to serve as the organization’s first Director of Insurance and Risk Management.
This critical role soon proved ready to take all she had. Approaching 19 different carriers, all rejected SHP for coverage based off the group’s unique organization structure and program. In the world of insurance, the idea of a volunteer-run and staffed bed manufacturing company both serving and directly in contact with vulnerable children was ‘uninsurable’. The quotes that did come back were far out of reach for the resources available to established businesses, much less a startup charity-based organization. True to form, and in SHP style, Heather’s only reaction was, “There has to be another way”. So, barring any other solution being proffered, she went to work creating one. “We fit no existing codes for underwriting at the time”, Heather recounted. By convincing three different underwriters to collaborate, Heather was able to facilitate cooperation that resulted in affordable coverage for SHP. Each year, the growth and scope of SHP challenged these alliances, and along with normal changes in the insurance industry, Heather has had to constantly work with many groups to ensure SHP remains covered.
Very few have witnessed the skill and hours this took to accomplish, but make no mistake, the ability to secure insurance saved SHP, and allows it to continue growing in order to fulfil the mission and get kids in every town off the floor.
A Life of its Own
At the end of 2018, the rapid growth of SHP led the organizers and leadership to finally split the roles of Management and the Board in order to accomplish all that had to be done. The Board moved into duties of overall governance and looking to the future, while the Management team carried on the work of growing and sustaining SHP’s day to day labors. Heather remained on the Board, but also continued in the highly critical role of Director of Insurance and Risk Management.
As a member of the Board, Heather believed in the Mission, and advocated for the Chapter President as the greatest asset the organization has. “When people started calling us from all over the place, people like Nate and Stephanie Miller, I mean out of the blue…they put their trust in us and we couldn’t let them down. It was challenging building an organization long distance, but we did it, we had to do it…It got kids off the floor, so we did it.” Her voice was heard in every board meeting, and every meeting in between, always seeking how the decisions that had to be made would first benefit the Chapter President and by extension the best way to reach the kids that need us most.
Heart and Soul
Without a doubt, the Michelson’s examples and their invitations to come and help has stirred a call in many of us. It is a joy, a journey, a good fight worth the endeavor. If Luke and Heidi are the living heartbeat of the Mission of SHP, and indeed they are, then Heather has surly been the Guardian of that Mission, right along with Jordan. Her unfailing resolve to it, and to help each of us succeed, to help communities, the moms, the dads, the care takers, and most of all the kids has inspired and supported all who have had the great pleasure of working alongside her these more than eight years. But time waits for no one. Whether you prefer Ecclesiastes or The Byrds, the verse, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” seems very appropriate.
Upon reflecting on the decision to step down from her activity with SHP, Heather commented, “It has been the hardest decision; I’ve struggled with it…But I know in my heart it is the right time. I don’t know all the reasons why; I just know that it is. I need to trust and listen to that Voice. SHP was never ‘our’ organization – it was just given to each of us for this time to work in it and help people.”
We will treasure the time we did have and honor the memory of Heather’s service to this cause. Whatever season life takes you into Heather, please rest assured that those who remain are vigilant, committed, and will see to it that…
No Kid Sleeps on the Floor in our Town!