They call her the “child whisperer.”
Skyler Harris, 15, became instant friends with Ryleigh Genn, 4, when she handed the little girl her new pillow covered with a Tinkerbell-themed pillowcase.
And Ryleigh’s brother, Xander, 2, followed the teen around as she helped put sheets and a blanket on his new toddler bed.
Harris said making friends with the children who are blessed with beds and new bedding is one of the reasons she likes volunteering for Hope Chest OKC.
The adult volunteers who recently watched her interact with the young recipients of Hope Chest said Harris quickly becomes best buddies with many of the children whose homes the ministry blesses during its Saturday deliveries.
Dena Nason, the ministry’s executive director, said friendly, compassionate volunteers like Harris help Hope Chest OKC share hope and a good night’s rest — one bed at a time.
To do this, the ministry relies heavily on volunteers like the teen, she said, adding that donations from individuals, businesses and churches also are vital to the nonprofit.
Nason, a member of LifeChurch.tv Northwest Oklahoma City, works a full-time job in addition to leading the Hope Chest ministry. She said aid from a dependable group of volunteers, plus community donations, helped the ministry provide 200 beds to more than 80 families in 2013. She said the nonprofit ministry helps about four to six families each month and more volunteers are always welcome.
Nason’s assistant director, April Styers, said she and her husband, Steve, were looking for a ministry organization that would allow them to help on weekends and bring their children along. Nason, who attends Oklahoma City Community Church, said Hope Chest seemed perfect for their family. She said her daughter Maddie, 15, and Maddie’s best friend, Harris, in particular, love to come along and help.
Styers said she always invites people to help volunteer for Hope Chest and several volunteers who recently aided the Candace Genn and Alvin Reed families were people she recruited from her church.
One of those new “recruits,” Jamie Stolp, of Oklahoma City, helped carry mattresses and box frames and helped set up several beds for the Genns.
“April said it’s amazing delivering to these families and we wanted to help,” Stolp said.
Drew Mackey, of Oklahoma City, another volunteer from Styers’ church, said he, too, decided to come see what Hope Chest was all about.
“She was talking about it and it sounded wonderful,” Mackey said. “I’m glad I could help out.”
Styers said she wanted her fellow church members to experience the joy of helping someone in need. She said she loves to see children’s faces light up when they realize the ministry’s volunteers have brought them a bed and bedding.
“They look up and say, ‘Is this for me?’” she said. “For some of these kids, it’s the first time they’ve had their own bed.”
Styers said she also likes to visit with mothers who are thrilled to receive a dining table and chairs. She said for some families, the donated dining room set from Hope Chest is their first one.
“The tables mean a lot to the moms because it’s creating a space for the family to come together,” Styers said.
Meeting a need
A local congregation that has been helping to support the ministry is Coffee Creek Baptist Church in Edmond.
Clark Frailey, the church’s senior pastor, said his church has taken up a special Christmas season collection for Hope Chest for the past three years, plus the congregation also gives to the ministry during other times of the year.
He said he went on a Hope Chest OKC delivery several months ago and was touched by the way the volunteers treated the recipients.
“They try to really humanize it so it’s not just a bed, it’s a princess bed or a bed with Disney sheets — something that a child can identify with,” Frailey said.
He said during his delivery run with the ministry, he met one single mother who needed a bed for herself and her children because she had been sleeping on the floor while they slept on a couch. Frailey said another single mom had been sleeping on a full-size bed with her four children because the family had no other place to sleep.
He said he was moved by how grateful these moms were for items that many people take for granted.
“Food is important and shelter is important but a big part of shelter is a bed — not just a roof or something over your head, but a bed to sleep on,” he said.
Nason said she is grateful for Frailey and his congregation because they have helped Hope Chest continue its mission.
She said she hopes that more individuals, businesses and church groups will decide to support the ministry through volunteerism or monetary donations. She said some groups could do other things like collect bedding through a bedding drive or donate beds and new pillows — items that Hope Chest always needs.