From left: Pearl, age four, shelter resident, Aly Raisman, and David Wolfe, CEO of Leesa Sleep. Photo: Samson Amore.
Olympic gold medalist and 2016 women’s gymnastics team captain Alexandra “Aly” Raisman visited Heading Home’s Dorchester shelter on July 20, to help the families living there unbox their seven new mattresses from her partner company, Leesa Sleep.
Heading Home, which serves approximately 125 families in the Greater Boston Area, is a shelter and support system designed to transition homeless families into stable, permanent housing. Since 2006, the company reports creating more than 350 units of new and permanent housing in Boston.
“We provide a lot of things through the funding that we have, but we do a lot of fundraising and take in a lot of donations to supplement the difference that folks need,” said Heading Home’s CEO, Danielle Ferrier. “Things like mattresses, which are actually really critical to someone functioning, is not something that is typically paid for,” Ferrier said. “It’s not just about the house, but everything else someone needs to be successful.”
Raisman, who grew up in Needham, approached Leesa Sleep CEO David Wolfe “a few months ago” after buying a mattress. A partnership began, in which Raisman would provide advertising for Wolfe’s company alongside men’s Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, while Wolfe would aid Raisman in her local philanthropic efforts.
“When I started Leesa Sleep just about three years ago, I wasn’t really expecting it to be big, but I was hoping that I could have an impact with it. I felt like if I set as a mission to donate one mattress for every ten we sell, that could grow into something important.” said Wolfe. “It’s an incredible thing how important it is to everybody, and it’s completely changed the focus of my life,” he added.
Heading Home had already received two prior donations from Leesa as part of it’s One-Ten initiative to donate one mattress for every ten sold. So far, the company reports donating over 17,000 mattresses. This donation, which brings the total sent to Heading Home to 200, will be spread out across the network’s various locations in Greater Boston.
At the event, Raisman autographed shirts and posed for photographs with the shelter employees and residents, but spent most of her time playing with the children and setting up their new beds.
“To be able to take the mattresses upstairs and to watch the kids open it and put it on the bed, it’s just so cute,” Raisman said. “I was upstairs with Pearl, who’s four, and she put the mattress on her mom’s bed and started jumping on it and doing gymnastics… it was something I’ll never forget, it was really special, and I’m so glad I was here to witness that.”
Raisman paused to record a Snapchat message for Wolfe’s niece, Elena, who is 14 and an aspiring gymnast.
“Hey Elena, it’s Aly,” she said through a beaming smile. “I’m here with David, he told me all about you. Best of luck with everything you do.” Leesa Sleep was recording an interview, and, after blowing Wolfe’s niece a kiss, Raisman stopped to ask, “wait, can I have a baby in the video?” She picked up a toddler after seeking approval from the child’s parent, and dangled a hand puppet in front of her as the interview continues. “You’re a superstar today,” she remarked.
“I bonded a lot with the kids today, and they’re all just so sweet and loving, and excited about everything. I think we can learn a lot from the younger generation,” Raisman said.
When asked what her career may look like once she concludes competing in Olympic gymnastics, Raisman said, “I got really great advice lately, and that was to not let the Olympic games be the highlight of my life. I think my goal now is to find things I enjoy doing, work with the younger generation, and to just be happy.”