Written by Hanna Lee
Prior to becoming a mother, Kendra Stitt Robins worked as a corporate attorney in San Francisco. She loved her job, but she wondered after her son, Cole, was born if there was another satisfying career that would accommodate her new family and provide more work and home life balance. Robins formed nonprofits for other people, and always had a whimsical desire to start one of her own.
Robins conceived Project Night Night after traveling with her son: âI noticed Cole went to bed really easily even though we were moving from place to place,â recalls Robins. âI realized it was because we brought very consistent items for him that meant home. As long as he had his favorite blanket, toy and book he was comfortable.â
Robins thought about domestic violence victims and how many have to leave immediately without their childrenâs personal belongings. âThese fractured families arrive at shelters where itâs noisy and scary for kids. I wanted to think of a way to make them feel safe and secure,â she says. Robins decided by offering homeless children ages 0-12 a blanket, book and stuffed animal she could tackle a small aspect of a larger issue.
The first year, Project Night Night sent out 1,200 âNight Nightâ packages. Now, six years later, 25,000 homeless children receive âNight Nightâ packages each year. Since 2005, the nonprofit has donated 125,000 children’s books.
Making the switch from corporate lawyer to nonprofit founder was a completely life changing experience for Robins. âTransitioning from corporate law to running a nonprofit has been one of the greatest joys in my life I put everything I have into making sure we can reach as many children as possible,â says Robins.
The majority of the nonprofitâs funds come through individuals. âVolunteers commit to a certain number of tote bags from us and fill them up accordingly,â Robins explains. âWe find a shelter in the volunteersâ area to donate the packages so all the work stays local.â
Project Night Night partners directly with shelters and promise to serve them on a consistent basis. A large majority of shelters partnered with Project Night Night were recommended by volunteers. Today, the nonprofit reaches 700 shelters across the country. âWe commit to these shelters because consistency is really important to us,â Robins explains. âWe want to make sure that when they get new children at the shelter they can place their order for âNight Nightâ packages.â
Many of the children at the shelters have never owned anything brand new, so Project Night Night strives to make sure all of the packages contain new or gently used items. The most inspirational moments for Robins are the ones she never expected. âA little boy at a shelter received a blanket with a plastic hang tag on it, and he asked if it was new. He was very pleased about it when I told him yes,â recalls Robins. âA few days later, the shelter leader asked to remove the tag off his blanket, and he looked at her with shock and said, âNo, if you take it off it wonât be new anymore!ââ
Robins explains that having new books and toys instills a confidence in these children that they wouldnât have otherwise. âHomeless children donât own books and four out of five low-income families donât even have books in the house,â she says. âIf you grew up in a household with a lot of books, itâs inconceivable, but for these kids, the book we give them might be what teaches them to read or at least gives them a new vocabulary.â
Robin jokes Cole (now 9-years-old) and her 4-year daughter thought she ran a toy store when they were young because of all the stuffed animals around their house. Now that theyâre older, they are involved and proudly tell their classes about Project Night Night to encourage others to help out. âThey arenât necessarily budding philanthropists, and they donât love parting with the toys from their own shelves,â Robins jokes. âBut I think Iâm showing them that they donât necessarily need to solve the big problems. They can solve a little problem and still make someoneâs life better.â
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