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Covenant House enlists executives to sleep out in cold, help homeless youths

KINGSWAY WEST – Don’t be surprised next weekend if you happen to be in the Kingsway West neighborhood and see about 60 executives sleeping outdoors instead of in their homes. 

You won’t be witnessing homelessness. 

However, those executives will be experiencing homelessness in their effort to aid Covenant House in raising awareness and funds in the nonprofit’s continued mission to help youths ages 16 to 24.

As part of Covenant’s House’s seventh annual Sleep Out: Executive Edition, the executives and staffers will sleep outdoors overnight on the grounds of Covenant House’s courtyard at 2727 Kingshighway Blvd. 

The Sleep Out begins at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21, and ends at 6 a.m. Friday, Nov. 22. 

During the Sleep Out last year, the ground had accumulated 6 inches of snow, but that didn’t deter Sleepers from helping to raise critical funds for the nonprofit, whose motto is from “Homelessness to Hope.”

Thus far, 67 executives have registered for the Sleep Out. 

“I am excited and nervous at the same time,” said registered Sleeper Tony Garavaglia, senior director, health and benefits market leader for Willis Towers Watson. 

This will be his first Sleep Out, and he said he was looking forward to forming relationships with other participants who are also very passionate about providing homeless young people with a safe, warm place in St. Louis. 

Garavaglia said he had learned about the Sleep Out from a friend who had participated in the past. 

“After conducting more research about homeless kids in Missouri, I knew I had to help out and participate in the Sleep Out event,” Garavaglia said, noting the estimated 5,800 youths here who are homeless on any given day. 

More importantly, he referenced the more than 500 homeless youths who are unaccompanied.  

“The Sleep Out event is critical for Covenant House to provide safe shelter for our homeless youth,” he said.

Covenant House provided shelter for 1,968 youths and cared for more than 10,200 in its residential programs between July 2018 and June 2019. The nonprofit depends heavily on funds raised by such events as the Sleep Out. Each Sleeper is asked to raise $5,000 by reaching out to family, friends and other sponsors.

Along with shelter, Covenant House provides nutrition, clothing and apartment-like housing. In fact, the group adamantly expresses that it is not a shelter, but a home. 

Young people also receive health care, education support, mental health care, legal consultation services and job training and placement. 

Although Nicholas Bowens already had a job when he arrived homeless at Covenant House about five years ago at 3 a.m., he knows well the blessings of the home. 

He successfully transitioned from the home two years ago and now owns a property management business. 

“I had only saw shelters on TV and in movies, so I thought you stand outside by the door with your stuff and then you go get up the next day and have to be back by the end of the night, so you would have a bed,” Bowens explained. 

He was wrong. 

“Even though I came at 3 in the morning, they took me downstairs to the cafeteria and gave me a full-course meal. I saw washers and dryers, clothes, nice rooms; and they wanted to see what they could do for me besides me just sleeping there,” said Bowens, who now sits on the Covenant House board of directors.  

Jessica Erfling, CEO of Covenant House,

Nicholas Bowens with Jessica Erfling, CEO of Covenant House. Photo by Bill Beene
said, “The thing that stands out to me most is that regardless of what a young person’s experiences may have been before they get here, our young people are so resilient and still have such a light that they want to shine brighter. And to see Nick giving back successfully to the community and having a family is just awesome.” 

The nonprofit is a bright spot in Bowen’s heart.  

“It’s an awesome place and do whatever they can to make sure you will succeed,” Bowens added. 

He recalls one of the Sleep Outs in which then-Mayor Francis Slay participated. 

“It really floored me that people like him were willing to sleep outside to help us out,” Bowens said. 

To donate or participate in the Sleep Out, call 314-533-2241 or visit www.covenanthousemo.org

Bill Beene

bill.beene@thenorthsider.com Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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