Traveling with an uncomfortable infant who struggles to sleep away from home can be a nightmare for parents. One former Aspen resident tackled that situation and turned it into a project to help homeless children across the United States.
Kendra Stitt Robins is the executive director and founder of Project Night Night, which provides homeless children items to ease the struggles of transient living.
Robins was born in New York and moved with her family to Aspen when she was in third grade. She attended Georgetown University, where she earned her law degree. Robbins worked as a lawyer in San Francisco until 2004, at which time she left her job to run Project Night Night full-time the following year.
She started the project after experiencing problems when traveling with their son, Cole, who was 1 at the time. When away from home, Cole became disoriented and didn’t sleep well. Eventually, Robins found the answer: Cole needed the comforts from home to help him sleep, which included his favorite blanket, stuffed animal and a book his mother would read to him every night at bedtime.
With his comfort items and the nighttime book-reading ritual, Cole slept soundly no matter where the family traveled. Seeing the effect of three simple items, Robins wondered how families without a permanent home and access to comfort items dealt with their children.
“There are more than 1.5 million homeless kids in the United States,” Robins said. “That means at some point, one in 50 kids in the U.S. will be homeless. That seemed crazy to me when we live in such a wealthy country. I decided that homeless kids need the same comfort that Cole has. I want to give every single one of them a blanket and a stuffed animal so they aren’t scared when they get to a shelter.”
Through her work as a corporate lawyer, Robins worked on numerous projects to set up nonprofit organizations. Those assignments acted as an inspiration for Robins to do something herself.
Robins created the Night Night package, a simple concept to provide comfort during a child’s most vulnerable moments. Each package contains a blanket, a book and a stuffed animal, all in a special tote bag. Each bag is designed to be age-appropriate, up to pre-teen boys and girls.
“We’re giving kids something they can call their own,” Robins said. “Something to give them a little confidence and support to deal with what’s in front of them.”
In 2005, Robins became a nonprofit founder with Project Night Night. She turned to her colleagues and friends to help out, and the idea snowballed.
“We play a lot of lip service to that saying, ‘One person can make a difference,’ but with Project Night Night, that really is the case,” Robins said. “We rely on about 10,000 volunteers a year to help distribute between 25,000 and 30,000 Night Night packages.”
During the past year, volunteers have staffed Project Night Night events in all 50 states. She’s had several individuals from Aspen participate in the program, including Aspen Middle School instructor Debbie Kreutzer.
“It’s a great project,” Kreutzer said. “We’re very proud of Kendra and her vision to help like this.”
Kreutzer participated with a group of middle-school students several years ago as part of the school’s service-learning program. They put together about 30 bags and donated them to a shelter in Glenwood Springs.
“It wasn’t a hard sell to the students at all,” Kreutzer said. “They all wanted to help. It was difficult for some of the students to grasp that there really were kids locally that were homeless, but our kids are giving and they bought into the program. It was very rewarding.”
Anyone can donate money at projectnightnight.org or get involved through the Adopt a Night Night Package Program. The package program is popular with groups looking to take ownership of a certain number of tote bags and distribute them on their own timeline.
Groups can purchase a minimum of 10 tote bags at $3.50 each then fill them with items they procure or make themselves. The money charged for the totes defrays the cost of the bags and the shipping charges.
“People can buy blankets or make them, “ Robins said. “They can use items that are like-new from their kids’ shelves. Whether they fill 10 or 100 bags, that’s 10 or 100 homeless children we wouldn’t have been able to serve without the support of the volunteer.”