Cynthia J. Shaffer and her husband John collect sheets, bedding, stuffed animals and beds to help foster kids through their Beds for Kids program.
FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. – Cynthia J. Shafer of Lahaina Realty Inc. in Fort Myers Beach was shopping at a Ross Dress for Less store, buying sheets and supplies for her charity Beds for Kids, when the girl at the register stopped her. “The girl said, ‘Do you remember me?’” Shafer recalls. “She then told me that I had delivered a toddler bed to her son. She said that I made the bed and handed her son a stuffed animal and that, at the time, she didn’t have money for rent or food in the refrigerator, but my act of kindness made her feel like a real person,” says Shafer.
Then, the woman explained that her life has turned around. She now has a job, insurance, and her son is in school. That’s the type of impact Shafer has on people.
Named a National Association of Realtors® (NAR) Good Neighbor award winner in 2002 and a Florida Realtors Humanitarian of the Year winner in 1998, Shafer has widely been recognized for her work with the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) program. But everything else she does for children may make an even bigger impact.
Beds for Kids
Founded in 2001, Beds for Kids is a program Shafer started under the umbrella of Voices for Kids of Southwest Florida.
“As a GAL you come across so many children who are placed with their grandparents, and the grandparents are on a fixed income,” she explains. “One of the requirements of the Division of Children and Families (DCF) is that the child must have his or her bed. If the grandparent can’t afford one, the child goes to foster care, and the grandparent has to jump through hoops to get the child back.”
Thus was born Beds For Kids, which provides beds and bedding to children in foster care. And to make sure the kids have what they need, Shafer is known to disassemble her own home.
“My husband will walk in and say, ‘Didn’t we have a twin bed in this room?’ and I’ll laugh and tell him we’re remodeling. I’ve been remodeling for the past 12 years. Couches go missing; furniture goes missing. You better not leave anything at my house, especially on a Saturday as I’ll give away,” laughs Shafer. She also helps kids who age out of the foster care program by working with them to furnish their apartments.
Giving from the Heart
Much of the cost of buying beds, sheets and more comes out of Shafer’s own pocket, though she adds that the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs are generous donors. And the Southwest Quilters Guild sews 100 quilts a year for toddler, crib, twin and double beds.
“Another group, the Linus Project, makes 90 blankets a year and pillows for toddler and twin beds,” she says. Shafer pays for gas, a storage unit, U-Haul trailers and more to keep the Beds for Kids going.
“In the last 12 years, I’ve bought six pick-up trucks. I have a truck that’s a year and a half old with 93,000 miles on it. Beds for Kids delivers to five different counties,” she says.
Beds are delivered on Saturdays. Due to privacy concerns, the only delivery people involved are Shafer, her husband, John, and her sister, Donna Garvey, who works for the Fort Myers Association of Realtors. They deliver 150 to 200 beds a year (for infants to teenagers) and have a storage unit the size of a two-car garage that’s full of supplies.
It Takes a Village
Every Thursday, Shafer maps out the delivery routes for the beds and buys the supplies she needs. Friday nights after work, she and John (and sometimes Realtors from Shafer’s office) assemble the toddler and twin beds.
Then, bright and early Saturday morning, the three load up the trucks and make their rounds. “On a regular Saturday, I put 340 miles on my truck,” she says.
Each bed comes assembled (cribs are assembled at the residence) with sheets, blankets and a stuffed animal.
“We try to give the child what they want, like princess sheets or monster trucks,” she says. A local dentist also donates toothbrushes and toothpaste.
As for the kids who age out of foster care. “I request a bed for them when they get their apartments. Then, I’ll go through my house and supply them with towels, nightstands, furniture, whatever they need,” says Shafer.
It’s the love, time and attention that stick with these children and their parents long after Shafer leaves. “I was at the movies, and I heard a voice calling me. It was a young girl, about 15 years old. Her father stood up and told me, ‘Thank you. You brought my daughter a bed while I was in prison, and you taught her to read,’” she recalls.
The girl had moved in with her 80-year-old grandmother, and the only reading material the grandmother had was a bible. Shafter went out and bought a child’s bible so the girl could read it. Shafer also would read with her every time she visited.
“This is what we do every Saturday,” she says.
“It’s amazing the comfort a bed can be in the midst of tragedy,” says Shafer, who is now expanding the program to offer emergency clothing, tutoring and a summer camp. “We try to give foster children the same comforts and activities that any child has.”
Overall, says Shafer, “The honors are very nice, but letting people know about the program is invaluable. The children touch your heart like you wouldn’t believe. I had one young girl request that people give her sheets and stuffed animals for her birthday presents. She delivered it all to me. It’s amazing what people will do.”
More than that, it’s amazing what one woman can do.
Shafer is as dedicated to her profession as she is to helping others. She has taken additional education courses to enhance her knowledge and expertise, earning the professional designations of Leadership Training Graduate (LTG) and Performance Management Network (PMN). LTG recognizes members of the Women’s Council of Realtors who have achieved a superior level of leadership expertise through education, experience and industry service, while PMN acknowledges the skills, education and technology expertise needed for Realtors to stay vital and valued in today’s business climate. In 1998, Shafer was recognized as Florida Realtors® Humanitarian Realtor of the Year for her work with the Guardian Ad Litem program, Beds for Kids and other community organizations. In 2002, the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) honored Shafer as a Good Neighbor Award winner.