South Charlotte

Group gives comfort through mattresses

Tim Rowley was volunteering with his Bible study group at Forest Hill Church when he saw a large, unaddressed need in Charlotte.

Many poor children were sleeping on the floor.

So Rowley, a municipal bond trader who lives in SouthPark, created the nonprofit Beds For Kids.

His idea came in September 2010 during a furniture sale in Pineville. Rowley, 55, and his wife, Tish, decided to buy furniture and give it to a family in need. They contacted Jen Cameron, the outreach coordinator at Forest Hill, found a family and went to deliver the furniture.

"I walked in and there was a lady and three kids lying on the floor," Rowley said. "I went home thinking, 'How can this happen?' "

Rowley called other organizations and asked if they could provide the names of families who needed furniture.

"That very minute, they started sending me emails with names," Rowley said.

Rowley knew he needed help, so he met with Brandon Holmes, who had recently returned from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Holmes, 26, had helped women there get loans to start businesses. Holmes took on the role of director of operations and partnerships with Beds for Kids.

Shortly thereafter, Rowley was contacted by Daniel Fogarty, 32, who decided to leave the private equity world and volunteer at least a year of his time as executive director of Beds for Kids.

"These young people just have so much drive to do something bigger than them," said Rowley, now chairman of the organization's eight-member board. "I believe their effort and passion is beyond what I would have ever done at their age."

Fogarty, who lives in Ballantyne, said he wanted to get into something more meaningful. Charlotte was one of the only cities without a nonprofit solely focused on furniture.

"This is something we do because we are called to do it, not because we get paid," Fogarty said. "It's not explainable, but it's really humbling when other nonprofits say, 'We really don't know how you have accomplished what you have.' "

The organization officially started in January 2011 and has served about 140 households. It quickly formed a strong partnership with the local Ashley Furniture store and connected with other nonprofits to provide lists of families in need.

Beds for Kids now takes referrals from Urban Restoration Ministry, A Child's Place, the YWCA and Charlotte Family Housing. It hopes to add one referring partner per quarter as inventory grows.

To preserve families' dignity, Beds for Kids asks for $30 whenever a family can pay, making those served feel less like charity cases and more like customers.

According to Fogarty, it is hard to expect a child to perform well in school when they sleep on the floor, as do 12,000 kids in Mecklenburg County.

Many also lack a kitchen table where they can do homework.

Beds for Kids aims to provide a bed for everyone in the household, along with other furniture.

Support for the organization has been strong. One donor provided a 1,100-square-foot warehouse for free, to store furniture. Another has given them a truck. A third donor has offered to pay for the warehouse facilities for a year, and a fourth put in a bathroom.

Beds for Kids has a goal of providing for 750 families for the 2012 calendar year.

Holmes, a Providence High graduate who now lives in Dilworth, said his involvement is about being able to encourage people throughout the city.

"Daniel and I went into a low-income-housing apartment complex, and the mother was no older than I am and had four kids who were half-dressed, all under the age of 6, sitting on the back of the couch. That was the only furniture," Holmes said. "Their clothes were in the corner of the rooms where they had been sleeping. As we brought in the mattresses, they were saying, 'That's Mommy's mattress,' and, 'That's my mattress.'

"They took such pride in something I'd taken for granted my whole life."

Holmes said that, when the family wants it, they will pray for them to have joy and blessings in their newly furnished home.

"A lot of times it is more emotional for them to have someone pray for them than to get the furniture," Holmes said.

"Many of them say they have not had anyone ask how they were doing in a long time."