Kendra Stitt Robins is the founder and executive director of Project Night Night, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing care packages for homeless and transient children living in shelters across the country. Founded in 2005, Project Night Night donates more than 25,000 Night Night Packages each year, free of charge, to homeless children who need our childhood essentials to feel secure, cozy, ready to learn and significant. Each Night Night Package contains a new security blanket, an age-appropriate children’s book and a stuffed animal — all nestled inside of a new canvas tote bag. By providing objects of reliable comfort, Project Night Night reduces trauma and advances the emotional and cognitive well-being of the thousands of homeless children whom they serve.
Kendra Stitt Robins created Project Night Night after experiences with her two-year-old son, Cole, led her to realize that putting him to bed was one of the most critical parts of his day. Without a full night’s sleep, Cole would be irritable and unresponsive the next day. Robins grew concerned for the many homeless and transient children who lacked the most basic bedtime comforts. These children, just like her own son, deserved to have a security blanket to snuggle and a stuffed animal to squeeze as they drifted off to sleep. Sensing her life’s calling, she left a successful legal career to launch Project Night Night.
Since March 2005, Robins has coordinated the collection and donation of more than 100,000 Night Night Packages to children across the country. She has made a personal commitment to provide a Night Night Package to every homeless child who makes a request. She relies on the help of more than 10,000 volunteers each year to support Project Night Night’s mission and to expand the efforts to reach more children in the places they seek shelter.
Before establishing Project Night Night, Kendra Stitt Robins practiced law in the San Francisco office of Bingham McCutchen, LLP. Before attending law school, she taught English literature at various community colleges in the Washington, D.C., area. She earned a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and law degree at Georgetown University. She currently lives with her husband, young son and daughter in San Francisco, Calif.
How did you bring Project Night Night to life?
Project Night Night began simply and on my living room floor. Like most parents, my son had more books and blankets than he could ever use, so I snagged those supplies to create the first Night Night Packages. I delivered them to a local domestic violence shelter and crossed my fingers that they would like them. Shortly thereafter the phone began to ring with more “orders!” Not only did the original shelter love them, but they had told their fellow shelters and they wanted Night Night Packages as well. I stepped up my collection efforts to include friends and family. When those resources were exhausted, I tapped the community by establishing a drop-off box at the local Starbucks Coffee store. From there, Project Night Night grew approximately 200 percent each year! We are now one of the largest providers of nighttime comforts to homeless children in the country. We rely on 10,000 volunteers each year to help us collect items, assemble Night Night Packages and distribute the Packages to local shelters. It is a huge operation, but one that we do with great pride.
What are you working on right now?
Right now, we are concentrating on our holiday distribution efforts to approximately 600 shelters. During the holidays, our Night Night Packages often play “ double duty.” First, they remind a child that he or she is important to us and valued. Second, during the holidays our Night Night Packages often act also as holiday gifts to ensure that something special will await these children during Christmas or Hanukkah celebrations.
What has been the most rewarding part of creating and building Project Night Night?
By far the most rewarding part of Project Night Night is receiving photos, drawings and stories for the children who receive our Night Night Packages. I have a soft heart when it comes to children, and many of the stories simply bring me to tears. One little boy refused to remove the tags from the blanket we gave him because, as he explained, “If I take-off the tags, my blanket won’t be new anymore, and I’ve never had anything new before.” Another little boy talked to the teddy bear he received from us. He told the bear his “secret” — that the boy’s mother was an alcoholic, but that the little boy assured his bear that he would keep the bear safe when the mother drank.
Project Night Night does not provide food or shelter — those items are crucial for homeless adults. Instead, we provide a way to comfort and to reduce fear in homeless children. We remind them that they are important, and we help them fall asleep with sweet dreams and with real comfort.
What has been your greatest challenge and how have you overcome it?
As with any nonprofit, our greatest challenge is fundraising. Asking people for money is never easy, and we try to respect that the economy has forced individuals to make difficult choices with their finances. Unfortunately, these same economic woes face nonprofit organizations that must do more with less. Demand for Night Night Packages rose 19 percent this year, yet donations remain the same. For a nonprofit organization like ours, the calculation is both simple and painful. When you take in fewer donations, you serve fewer children. That means that we keep a waiting list of children who would like to receive Night Night Packages when funding permits.
We do our best to provide simple ways to help. For a donation of $20, a donor can underwrite the cost of a Night Night Package, and we can take one child off of our waiting list.
What inspires you?
People who take action.
What are 3 trends that excite you?
Corporate philanthropy — In the best sense, it has become chic to involve a company in giving back. This has provided enormous benefits to the nonprofit community.
Inexpensive resources for nonprofit companies — Yahoo Web hosting, Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and online price comparison shopping make it possible for us to serve a homeless community across the country.
Young volunteers — More and more of our volunteers are under 12! They send us proceeds from lemonade stands, share their own items for the Night Night Packages and speak to their schools on our behalf.
What is one mistake you’ve made and what did you learn from it?
In the early days of Project Night Night, I didn’t ask for help enough. I tried to do everything on my own thinking it would be an “inconvenience” to ask someone to make a shelter delivery or to pick up the items from the collection box. I underestimated how many people want to help but don’t always know how. I restructured Project Night Night to provide an entire program based on volunteers. It is called our Adopt a Night Night Package program. It gives volunteers complete control over filling and delivering their own Night Night Packages.
What is one tool that helps you?
Vistaprint! They print all of our marketing materials at amazing prices. What a resource! I sound like a commercial, but I mean it.
What made you decide to leave law and start a nonprofit?
As a corporate attorney, I formed nonprofit organizations for others. It was only a matter of time before I formed one for myself. I just had to wait for an idea that I found interesting and scalable!
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
Janel Jones, creator of Nohikids.com. She makes terrific organic children’ s clothes and has been a longtime supporter of Project Night Night.
How can members of our community help?
There are so many options!
1 Donate $20 at www.ProjectNightNight.org to underwrite the cost of a Night Night Package. You can do this in your own name or in honor of another. A great holiday gift!
2 . Participate in our Adopt a Night Night Package program (http://www.projectnightnight.org/AaNNP.html), where you fill our tote bags and deliver them to a local shelter.
3 . Spread the word! The more folks who know about us, the more homeless children we can help.
How can a children’ s product business help Project Night Night?
We rely largely on donations from the community to provide the blankets, books and stuffed animals for our Night Night Packages. Corporate donations from children’ s companies allow us to provide the best quality product in our Night Night Packages, and we would absolutely welcome their donations.
You have brought comfort for 100,000 homeless children. Who brings you comfort?
My husband and my two tots bring me comfort. OK, and my two cats. Not always in that order.
Project Night Night: www.ProjectNightNight.org
Kendra Stitt Robins on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/kendra-stitt-robins/1/439/b58
Check out this super cool Animoto video about Project Night Night
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