Nov 15, 2011 • By

Not your average sleepover


For most 12-year-olds, going to a sleepover includes eating snacks, playing video games and turning the lights out way past a normal bedtime. For my son, Will, a sleepover last weekend offered a twist to an otherwise common custom.

On Friday, Nov. 11, General Mills employees, families and retirees came together for our third annual Sleep Out on the grounds of our technical center campus in Golden Valley, Minn.. The event, in partnership with Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners (IOCP), raises money and awareness for homelessness.

For Will and me, the event offered an opportunity to volunteer, connect with colleagues and give back to the community.

(Will Hohman and Deb Miller)


This marks our third year of volunteering for the Sleep Out. Early Friday morning, we partnered with a wonderful team of employee and retiree helpers to move cardboard boxes for sleeping, arrange fire pits and firewood, and set up tents as needed. Groundskeeper Deb Miller, who volunteers every year, told me, “I like doing what I can and hope I can serve as a role model for kids like Will who give their time as well.”

Jay Samson, one of my colleagues and this year’s Sleep Out chairperson, volunteers regularly.

“I read a quote that has stuck with me and provided inspiration over the years, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ This really inspires me to do what I can to help,” says Jay.

Fred Hegele, another helper, is a General Mills retiree and long-time volunteer. “The Sleep Out brings me closer to those in our community. Sleeping out in the cold helps me to understand just how difficult life can be for folks who don’t have a choice.”

(Laura, left)

Personal connections

It’s true, many in our communities don’t have a choice. This was expressed poignantly by one of the speakers at the program Friday night.

Laura, a college-educated single mom living in the suburbs west of Minneapolis, unexpectedly found herself in a situation where she had trouble making ends meet. Were it not for the assistance of the IOCP, she would have lost her home.

Jim Boyd, colleague and Sleep Out volunteer, can relate.

“My single mother was the sole provider to our family of two children. For a while, we depended on assistance to get us through some very hard times. Mom didn’t always share who and where the help was coming from, she just made sure we were provided for and was grateful for the little extras that sometimes came our way.”

I didn’t know it when I heard her speak, but later learned that Laura and I went to high school together. Her message was very powerful and reinforced my desire and commitment to serve.

Giving back

Ask any of the employees who attended the Sleep Out why they participated, and they’ll tell you it’s an easy way to give back to the community.

Wendy Brostrom works as a recruiting manager at General Mills. For her, sleeping out was one small thing she and her nine-year-old daughter Cristina could do together to help.

“My daughter and I participated because we know there is a need; too many people are without warm homes and food. I also believe this opportunity has shown Cristina that everyone can do something to help, even kids.”

(Wendy and Cristina Brostrom)

Jay’s boys, Conner (12) and Ryan (10), loved the event and are already talking about next year’s Sleep Out. “Both boys did some advanced fundraising and had an appreciation for the need and the small, yet invaluable impact they made,” says Jay.

Will’s motivation to serve extended beyond the bonfire and s’mores.

“It’s fun taking a day to support others and to know the work I’m doing can help them find a better path,” he said.

But I think Fred summed it up best:

“I am surrounded by great people in our community who really care about each other – and being surrounded by great people is a quality of life that I enjoyed at General Mills for 38 years.”

Editor’s note: Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners responds to emergency needs, moves families toward stability and positive change, and engages volunteers and partners in service, leadership, and capacity building. You can learn more about them at

You can watch video highlights from General Mills’ 2010 Sleep Out, and to learn more about our commitment to volunteerism, visit