SEMINOLE — Avianna Danise had never held a power tool before Friday, but you could hardly tell as she sanded two-by-fours outside Richard O. Jacobson Technical High.
Her work station was first in an assembly line behind the school. At the end, pieces of wood she passed on were being stained and built into bunk beds that will go to other kids in Pinellas County who are without a regular place to sleep.
About 200 of the school’s 330 students studying various disciplines volunteered to be part of the process, led by the local chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, a national nonprofit that delivers free beds to children in need. The organization distributed more than 500 beds in Pinellas last year, but hundreds more kids remain on a waiting list.
The building day at Tech High was prompted by principal Martha Giancola, who said she is constantly pushing her students to be “community-minded.” She thought bringing the nonprofit’s operation to campus would inspire them — and show how big an impact a bit of work can make.
“If we don’t show them that while they’re under our wings," she said, “they won’t have the confidence to do it on their own.”
Sawdust lingered in the air Friday as dozens of drills and other tools buzzed. Students bopped between stations, passing pieces of wood toward 14-year-old Serene Sevilla as she manned a giant container of staining liquid.
She said she volunteered because she wants to “make the world a better place." All kids "deserve to have a warm, comfy bed that they feel safe in,” she added.
Each bunk bed the nonprofit gives out comes with two mattresses, two pillows, two sets of bedding and two teddy bears. Funding for the beds, which cost about $300 a piece but are free to families that apply online, comes from sponsors and donations.
Recipients often are students enrolled in Pinellas schools who have been referred to the nonprofit by guidance counselors, the state Department of Children and Families and other community organizations, said chapter president Jim Baker.
He called it exciting to watch the high school students work on Friday. “It’s an opportunity for them to see that there are kids around them in need,” he added. “They’re able to understand the change they can make in their community.”
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The chance to make a difference is the reason Antonio Smallwood, 15, came to help. Unlike most of the kids who volunteered, he studies construction technology, so he likes building just about anything.
“To be able to build a bed for a kid is an amazing opportunity," he said, helping peers who study subjects like veterinary science and computer programming mark drill holes on pieces of wood that would be passed to Izaiah Frost, 15.
For Frost, the experience was personal. He was without a place of his own to sleep when he was small and remembers waking up sore after restless nights on the couch or floor.
“We’re helping them get a good night’s rest and be ready for the next day,” he said of the kids who will receive the beds.
“Knowing how they feel makes me feel really good about what we’re doing here today.”