Reflection on Launching a Student Sleep Out
Written by Alicia Buenaventura
Pursuing an internship at Covenant House was likely the most meaningful commitment I chose my freshman year of college. Every week, I chose to commute downtown to one of New Orleans’ most impactful nonprofits. Just minutes from my affluent campus, I learned how stark the issue of homelessness among local youth was. My first day I watched “Shelter,” a documentary following the residents of Covenant House, and held back tears at the desk when I heard the stories from youth that passed through each day. After weeks of interacting with youth, learning how the organization functioned, and talking with fellow staff members about their jobs, I was fully committed to the mission of Covenant House.
If I learned anything from working in the administration of a major non-profit, it was that money is crucial. In order to make their miracles happen, including reuniting youth with families, assisting new homeowners with monthly rent, and funding basic needs like food, clothing, and mattresses for residents, Covenant House staff must use their energy writing grants, asking for donations, or organizing fundraising events. Their Sleep Out (an event where comm
unity members fundraised from friends and family and committed to sleeping outside for one night) seemed to me a wonderful movement that not only spread the word broadly about Covenant House but also demonstrated the community’s commitment to supporting local homeless and runaway youth.
When the Sleep Out finally came around, I wanted to join it, fundraise with a group of friends from Tulane and show that my local University was committed to local issues as well. When I learned there was an age limit though, Covenant House staff members who knew me encouraged me to start my own student sleep out on my campus. I jumped at the idea and immediately, started texting my friends and emailing student organizations. I started scheduling meetings with Student Affairs and the Center for Public Service to make the event official and reserve a space outside to sleep.
I started to gain support for the sleep out, particularly from Tulane’s Habitat for Humanity organization whose entire executive board spread the word about it and fundraised. Dedicated sleepers, strangers, friends, and staff members were fundraising via Facebook and email. It
was by no means easy, even very difficult at times. Some student organizations would not email me back, some close friends who initially intended on participating fell through.
Logistically, from reserving a space to advertising the event, I had to work through a lot of forms, emails, and meetings. I had to figure out about a lot moving parts of Tulane’s campus on my own. As I am not
affiliated with Greek life or any other kind of cohort organization, I sometimes felt alone. I imagine it would have been easier if I had a cohort like sorority sisters to bandwagon my sleep out, but I did not have that, it was just me representing a mission for Covenant House. I reached out to individuals and campus leaders in the hope they would just believe in the mission and participate because they cared about homelessness among local young people. Every person I reached out to do it was incentivized to do it not because of an obligation, but because they truly cared and believed in the mission. In this sense it made it harder, but a lot more meaningful.
The day of the event, Jim Kelly, the executive director and Palmer Mills, Development Associate & Volunteer Program Coordinator came to my school to talk to the sleepers about the organization and show videos from the documentary that inspired me in the beginning, “Shelter.” After that event, the participating students were very motivated to sleep out and support the cause. Some students were even interested in volunteering with Covenant House after this talk.
In the end, after weeks of planning, fundraising, and organizing, the sleep out raised over $8,300. When I finally laid my cardboard down at the end of the night to sleep, I felt very proud of everyone for fundraising and reflected on the plethora of actors from Tulane and Covenant House that supported me. Although it was certainly difficult, I was glad I took on the initiative. What kept me going was remembering that the incredible youth of Covenant House are worth all the effort. I am so glad that I was able to do this and give more for Covenant House beyond my weekly time as an intern.