Detroit — Fifty business leaders committed to sleeping outside in cardboard boxes to raise funds and awareness for the fourth annual Sleep Out America: Executive Edition on Thursday.

Executives agreed to raise at least $5,000 through pledges. In its fourth year, the Sleep Out has raised more than $1 million for the 60,000 homeless children in Michigan, said Covenant House Michigan Executive Director Gerry Piro.

“The movement is spreading,” Piro said.

Nadia Mekled, an executive at Toll Brothers, a luxury homebuilder, has participated every year because the children “are so invisible to most of us.”

“We spend our time building homes ... we have to help kids that don’t have a home at all,” Mekled said. “After doing the first one, I was so moved. You’re in the dark, confined to a small box, reflecting the entire time, but it’s nothing compared to what they go through.”

The night could be challenging. Temperatures when the executives retreat to their boxes were expected to be about 40 degrees, dropping to as low as 29 before the event ends at 5 a.m.

Covenant House Michigan in Detroit invited guests for a public candlelight vigil before the executives prepared for the night. Piro said Detroit was one of many sleepouts across the country. Fifty other Sleep Outs were taking place in Michigan on Thursday, Piro said.

Tanisha Baker, a former resident of Covenant House, sang “Amazing Grace” during the vigil. She ended up at Covenant House in November 2008 after tiring of moving from couch to couch.

“Eventually, I got sick, went to the hospital and Covenant came to pick me up,” said Baker, 28.

She stayed at the shelter until a week before her wedding to her late husband, another former resident, in November 2010.

“It’s one of those places where even though I left, I can call one of my four moms for any problem I have,” Baker said. “They helped me with planning my wedding and with my husband’s funeral.”

Covenant House on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, in its 20th year as a shelter for homeless and at-risk youth, estimates there are more than 5,000 Metro Detroit youths who wander the street on any given night in search of a warm bed, hot meal and someone to care about them. The fundraiser and vigil coincides with National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

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