Doug Nickols: A Good Night’s Sleep with Bed Start

Kids like to jump on beds. It’s what they do. And so parents have to remind their kids not to jump on the bed. It’s what they do. There’s even a nursery rhyme about it.

Doug Nickols, Director of Bed Start.

Doug Nickols, Director of Bed Start.

For Doug Nickols, this very familiar scene is one of the highlights about making furniture deliveries with Bed Start. He smiles whenever he sees a child leap onto a new bed, literally jumping up and down with excitement. Many of these kids have never slept in, let alone jumped on, a bed of their own.

“You’ll see them jumping on the beds, they’re so excited,” he says. “And mom will usually smile and say, ‘hey, wait until after they leave.’ But we’re over here, just egging them on. It’s one of the best things to watch.”

Doug is the director of Bed Start, a Plano-based nonprofit that serves Collin and North Dallas counties by providing new and gently-used furniture to individuals who are transitioning out of homelessness. The people they serve are referred to them through a network of over 280 organizations. These referring organizations range from churches and nonprofits to schools and municipal government services. When individuals are ready to support themselves, they’re referred to Bed Start. With the help of Bed Start, people from all walks of life are able to transform the four walls of their new residence into a home--a place where they can sit and share a family meal, where kids can focus on their homework assignments, and where, at the end of a long day, everyone can rest in a bed of their own. Bed Start serves “any and all,” says Doug. “No matter their background. We don’t discriminate.”

The Bed Start volunteers loading furniture on a rainy weekend.

The Bed Start volunteers loading furniture on a rainy weekend.

Officially, Bed Start has been serving the community since 1995. As an organization, it grew out of the understanding that children who did not a have a good night’s sleep were less engaged at school--and their grades and test scores reflected that. Janice Watson, a teacher at Plano Head Start, connected with members of Custer Road United Methodist Church and together they began delivering bedding to Head Start students and family members. “It was just one school,” says Doug, “but the need was so great.”

In the years since, Bed Start established a solid base in Plano. Its network of referral agencies began to grow, as did its service area. It expanded from a single school--Plano Head Start--to the 280 organizations across multiple municipalities it works with today. Most of these groups lack the storage space and delivery vehicles to process these kinds of donations, which makes the service Bed Start provides vital in helping people transition out of crisis.

Doug has been volunteering with Bed Start since the nineties. He had been the president of a large, international company, but was laid off after an acquisition and merger. “Having worked 60 to 80 hour weeks, I had time to reflect. Let God take control, and I spent part of that time serving while looking for a new position.” In 2008, he was named Bed Start’s director and has been growing Bed Start’s reach ever since.

Bed Start is run by a completely volunteer team out of a small shed at Custer Road UMC.

Bed Start is run by a completely volunteer team out of a small shed at Custer Road UMC.

Doug says that Bed Start is “distinct because there is no paid staff, no paid transportation, no large warehouse or storeroom for furniture.” Their storage unit is a shed the size of a three-car garage and is located at Custer Road UMC. “At Bed Start 95% of our donations are in-kind,” says Doug, “and 100% of financial donations go to bedding.” They deliver furniture for bedrooms, living rooms, and dining rooms, but their “sweet spot” is beds. Last year, the group delivered 1,697 beds throughout their service area, for a resale shop value of 1.1 million dollars.

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Currently, 180 households are on the waiting list for beds. While Plano residents will typically wait no more than two weeks for their request to be fulfilled, residents of Allen, McKinney, and Frisco will have to wait for about a month. Because of the distance and routing, residents in Dallas and in the outskirts of Collin County typically wait up to three months. Therefore, Bed Start hopes to share their delivery model with communities outside their service area, to create additional hubs that can meet the needs that are local to that area.

On a typical Saturday, volunteers meet in the parking lot of Custer Road UMC. Many of these volunteers were connected with Bed Start through other organizations--Girl Scouts, National Honors Society, Eagle Scouts, and Young Men’s Service, to name a few. Volunteers are organized into five crews and are routed to different neighborhoods within Bed Start’s service area. Each crew consists of 8-12 people, “mostly youth, but always with adult drivers.”

Doug tries to route volunteers to the local neighborhoods they’re familiar with--or they neighborhoods they thought they were familiar with. For many of the adults and teens who volunteer with Bed Start, going out on deliveries “gives them a huge new perspective on the needs in our area. There are so many more doors to open, so many cultures to experience, right here. The need is here. With Bed Start,” says Doug, “it’s like John Wesley said, our world is our parish.”

And that certainly would seem to be the case. When volunteers are dispatched to an apartment complex they might drive by every single day on their morning commute, or a house in a neighborhood that could stand in for any house in their neighborhood, they begin to see their pocket of the city in a whole new way. As with the child who launches himself onto a new bed. The image that is so recognizable to many of us—that image hasn’t changed. It is still a child jumping on the bed. But to volunteers like Doug, that image becomes something new. And that would make anyone smile.


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Mary Martin