In one of my Junior League of Asheville (JLA) meetings, I learned that Asheville has more non-profits per capita than any other city. Unfortunately, in this small North Carolina mountain town, we have a lot of needs that aren’t being met, but thankfully, non-profits are stepping in to support our community! I’ve learned a ton about non-profits through JLA, but through my connections at work, I learned about a wonderful nonprofit: Sleep Tight Kids (STK).
Jill Schwarzkopf felt called to do more in 2009 when she was teaching in Western North Carolina. Realizing her family was blessed to have so much; she wanted to find a way to help others and started Sleep Tight Kids. Sleep Tight Kids is a 501c3 non-profit that aims “to promote feelings of hope and comfort in children as they lay their heads to rest each night”. STK collects donations and bedtime-related items for children and donates to local community organizations that provide housing for children in our area.
Jill was kind enough to share her experiences and inspiration for Sleep Tight Kids. Her grace for people and her go-getter attitude is inspiring! Thank you, Jill!
SK: What is your educational background?
I have an Early Childhood Education Degree from Texas State University.
SK: How long have you lived in Asheville and what brought you here?
I’ve lived here for 14 years. I fell in love with the outdoors here.
SK: What made you decide to start your own non-profit?
I was working at Mills River Elementary School as a teacher. We had lots of students that wore the same thing to school every day. They spoke of how they had no heat. I started by collecting funds from teachers and friends to help them. Then I had a dream… it was vivid and spelled out the answer: I would start a non-profit. When I woke up, I wrote down the words Sleep Tight Kids. I checked to see if the URL was available. It was, and it was a sign.
SK: Please share a little about Sleep Tight Kids. What results does your organization achieve?
Sleep Tight Kids donates newly purchased bedtime-related items for children, including clothing, blankets, stuffed animals, dental kits and books, either directly to needy families or through partnerships with other non-profit organizations supporting needy families, with a focus on families in Western North Carolina (WNC). The goal of the 501c3 non-profit is to promote feelings of hope and comfort in children as they lay their heads to rest each night. ALL donations are 100% tax deductible.
Our first year, 2009, we delivered 75 comfort items. In 2015, we delivered almost 5,000. We are reaching 5 counties in WNC and expanding each month.
SK: That growth is so exciting!! Congratulations!
What differences have you encountered with starting, creating and running your own nonprofit versus your photography business?
Since both businesses run from the heart, it was easy to fuze the two. I also love photographing the kids whom we are helping. So much love and authentic beauty comes through the lens.
It is a challenge to bounce back and forth from the branding of the two. When thinking of Realities Photography, I want to convey quality and the experience that my clients will receive. With Sleep Tight Kids, it’s all about helping the people who need it so desperately. It’s about second chances and providing hope to those in desperate situations.
SK: What has been the most rewarding thing about starting your own nonprofit?
Seeing the children’s faces and knowing that these items are making a difference. The children and their parents know there are people who care for them and encourage them through these traumatic experiences.
SK: What has been the scariest part of starting your nonprofit?
Fear of failure. Fear of me doing it all alone. Fear that no one will believe in the cause to help these children. It’s something I pray about and I will not let this fear overcome the mission of helping others.
SK: What do you spend most of your time on? What does a typical day look like?
Finding new ways to expand our organization is high on the list. This involves more donations so that we can reach more counties. Right now, we are looking to expand to Transylvania and Henderson Counties. We are currently making deliveries in Yancey, Madison, McDowell, Buncombe, and Haywood Counties.
Ordering and receiving items and deliveries occur about every 3 months so there’s a lot to keep up with. Marketing and planning our next event is an on-going task, which my committees on the Circle of Hope help greatly with.
SK: How are you using social media to help grow Sleep Tight Kids? Do you have any social media tips?
I have a social media committee. I find it helpful for them to not only post images, but also stats from the Department of Social Services and shelters/foster system. It really helps for people to get the facts about the great need for Sleep Tight Kids. When you see how many children are displaced, you realize how much a comfort item, in the midst of an extremely difficult situation, can provide hope to a young child.
Currently, we use Facebook and Instagram. About a year ago, I started a volunteer group for STK on Facebook because I needed help in facilitating our growth. I call it the Circle of Hope. These are people who have shown an interest in helping us. I post meetings, delivery opportunities and all vital information to help our non-profit run smoothly.
SK: What are 3 items that you have noticed a need for this winter?
Books, blankets, and winter pajamas.
SK: How can people get involved with Sleep Tight Kids?
Facebook message me or e-mail [info (at) sleeptightkids (dot) org]. We have a newsletter that goes out quarterly that tells about our upcoming events and spotlights. We need help with deliveries, grant writing, and marketing our events.
SK: How do you see Sleep Tight Kids evolving further in the next few years?
My goal is to expand STK into other cities. Sleep Tight Kids Austin and Atlanta would probably be first, due to interest in those cities.
SK: What advice would you offer others hoping to start a nonprofit?
Do it today. Seize any moment to help others. Do not allow others to discourage you. Stay on your path.
SK: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t try to follow what other people are doing. Keep your nose to the grindstone and keep following your dream. Make your own path and for goodness sake, make it interesting!
Outside the Office…
SK: Describe your perfect day off in Asheville?
Sleeping in. I get weird without sleep. Going to Yin yoga with hot tea in hand.
Shooting in the late afternoon golden warmth of the sun. I think this time of day is God’s way to extend His light to us. Dusk makes me feel creative and reflective.
SK: Happy hour drink of choice?
Craft beer. The choices are a plenty in this town.
SK: If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be and why?
I would have lunch at a brewery with my husband. He believed in my photography business and supports my efforts move forward with creativity. When I told him about my dream of starting STK, he was there helping me bring it to fruition. I have seen God working in our relationship a lot in the last few years. It’s special to have this and I don’t take it for granted.
SK: Life Motto?
Keep looking up.
SK: What is your morning routine?
Before I get out of bed, I pray for myself, and for others. Kid mayhem before school, editing and a whole lot of hot tea.
SK: What book(s) are you currently reading?
Sally Mann, Hold Still: A Memoir With Photographs. What I love about her as an artist is that she kept doing and creating, regardless of what people were saying.
SK: What is your dream vacation?
I do it every day in my mind. When I do laundry, I think of how happy I am to have clothes to wash. Same thing with the dishes. When I am paying bills, I’m thankful there is money there to pay them. In the busyness of life, there can be fabulous things going on if we stop to savor it. I find peace and a mental vacation in being happy with where I am and what I have.