by Vikram Sunderrajan
Reggie’s Sleepout is a non-profit organization focused on getting homeless teens off the streets.
The name comes from Reggie Kelsey, a boy who aged out of foster care in 2001, and not four months later was recovered from the Des Moines River. After his death, the Youth & Shelter Services, Inc. developed a program to provide services to those aging out of foster care. Now, the program provides a monthly stipend and additional services to those in need, officially named as the Preparation for Adult Living program.
Once a year, typically in late October or early November, Reggie’s Sleepout reserves Drake Stadium for a sleepover that, while paling in comparison to the true experience, humbles everyone involved. From 3pm to 9pm, participants build themselves a home out of cardboard, then sleep in it that night. Food and entertainment are provided, but participants must provide clothing, shelter, blankets, and anything else. This past event was a still, windy night, hitting as low as 22°F with windchill, contrasting from the snowfall the event received the year prior. Emergency care is ready if necessary, and clean-up is managed by the organizers, but making it through the night is on you.
The head of the event, Toby O’Berry, gave some insight into how the event has performed over its time at Drake. The event has been at Drake for the past 14 years, averaging about 100 people each year, and has been able to gather $1.9 million over the years with the average donor giving less than $30. Each year the organization provides care for about 650 youth.
“This is a unique experience that can’t be replicated, and it does so much good for everyone,” O’Berry said.
O’Berry also talked about how most of the young adults they care for have merely missed out on the lottery of life, as the cause for them to be homeless is most often an unsafe home environment. The youths mostly range from ages 16-24, which is the transition phase between being a kid and becoming an adult, and this age is when they need the most help.
Sam Wolstenholm, the Service Chair for the Residence Hall Association, not only helped promote the event amongst Drake students but also participated in the event himself.
“It was an amazing opportunity to participate in a charity event that simulates what the charity is trying to end,” Wolstenholm said. “It was a terrific experience that I plan to do again, but with at least a little more preparation the next time.”