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Apr. 05

How `The Blind Side' Made This Girl See

In honor of National Volunteer Week, April 6-12, USA Weekend and Points of Light are recongizing the 2013 Make A Difference Day honorees, who will be celebrated in Washington, D.C., on April 10. Here we tell the story of a Kentucky teen who gives beds to children who need them.

There’s a scene in the true-story-turned-movie “The Blind Side,” where Sandra Bullock, portraying Leigh Anne Tuohy, is showing a bedroom in her house to a young, impoverished teenager she’s just plucked from homelessness.

collins_with_volunteers.jpgJessica Collins, second from left, poses with fellow A Place to Sleep Volunteers on Make A Difference Day.

“I’ve never had one before,” he says.

“What, a room to yourself?” Bullock asks.

“A bed,” he replies.

The 35-second scene is the seed that so far has produced beds for 349 children in Shelby County, Ky., including 27 in a special effort on Make A Difference Day.

Jessica Collins, now 14, was just 10 when she watched “The Blind Side” and asked her grandmother, Lynn Whittaker, if it was really possible that some children didn’t have beds. Her grandmother replied she wouldn’t be surprised if some of Jessica’s classmates were in need.

“That year for Christmas ... I wanted to help a child get a bed,” Jessica says. The strong-willed girl brokered a deal with a local furniture store to get beds at cost and started raising money.

Four years later, her foundation, A Place to Sleep, has become an official ministry of the First Presbyterian Church and is an annual participant in Make A Difference Day. For Make A Difference Day 2013, held on Oct. 26, 85 volunteers showed up to crochet blankets, make quilts, tie-dye pillow cases, donate $2,000 for supplies and, most importantly, deliver 27 beds to kids in need.

“Wow! What a wonderful experience,” says Shelbyville’s Boyd Phillips, 69, one of the volunteers, along with his wife, Susie. “The mother of the two children receiving the beds kept saying ‘God bless you’ as we brought the beds into the house. I knew that any moment she was going to cry, and if she did, I just knew the girls (students helping him deliver) and I would join her in crying.”

Jessica has since met Tuohy, the woman Bullock portrayed in “The Blind Side.” The teen is hopeful she, too, can inspire others, as Tuohy inspired her.

Already done, says Sharon Garcia. Her 10-year-old daughter, Sintia, received a bed, and later paid it forward by telling A Place To Sleep about a neighbor girl also in need.

“Jessica has my heart,” Garcia says. “It takes a lot of courage for someone to think about others and want to help. She’s like a mentor to my daughter because she sees what Jessica is doing and she wants to go out and help others, too.” 

Check out the other Make A Difference Day honorees at www.makeadifferenceday.com/winners.

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