LEWISTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- What started as a concern for low income families in her community, has spawned into a business for Amy Smith.
Through Healthy Homeworks, anyone who can't afford to buy a bed can earn one by building it themselves. Each homemade solid wood bed frame comes with a mattress and an encasement that keeps bedbugs out.
There's one catch: if you want a free bed, you have to work for it and help build other beds that can be sold to the general public. The program just started last year, but Smith is hoping to appeal to more downtown landlords.
"We just opened our doors in September and we had 17 builders by the end of the year," said Smith. "In the first three months of this year we're up to 30 people, and our waiting list is 30 more people."
Right now, the option to build includes a twin bed or a full. For those looking to buy, there are bunk bed and soon queen size options.
"For a twin they need to volunteer 16 hours; for a full it's 20 hours. In the 20 hours they'll build their bed plus two or three surplus beds, and we sell the surplus beds and that's how we find the program," says Smith. "At least, that's the theory," she jokes about the program's slow start.
Smith calls it the Earn-A-Bed program. By providing safe and clean beds, Smith hopes to lower the rate of bedbugs within the city.
Meanwhile, she's noticed an unexpected twist: once volunteers have finished building, some come back, now armed with the confidence to work.
"Even though this is a short program, only 20 hours, they then every day can wake up in a bed that's sort of a testament of their empowerment and willingness to take a risk and learn something new; and have a positive impact on their own lives," says Smith. "It's pretty cool."
That added help came in handy this week for a delivery to a brand new housing unit through Avesta. They ordered 30 twin beds; each one assembled in the mill, then delivered and set up; mattress and cover included.
Each bed costs around $250 to manufacture, so Smith is working hard to sell mattresses to help fund the program.
She says Bates College is helping with a fellowship. A student will be working with Healthy Homeworks for the next few weeks, teaching them how to best appeal to the retail market.
If you're interested in learning more about Healthy Homeworks, click here.
Healthy Androscoggin also offers tips on dealing with bed bugs, here.