By Natalie Simms
Every year children look forward with much anticipation to their birthday with the gifts, cake, balloons and party celebration. But unfortunately, there are many children in Rome and Floyd County who don’t get to experience all the joys of birthday celebrations due to various family circumstances or finances. Whatever the reason, a new local organization started by few homeschooling families is helping to bring ‘Brighter Birthdays’ to these children.
“For many children, birthdays are considered to be one of the most important days of their lives. While a number of organizations help make holidays special, far fewer focus on birthdays. This often leaves some disadvantaged children unable to fully celebrate their special day,” says Cristin Warden, Founder and CEO of Brighter Birthdays.
Brighter Birthdays’ mission is to change this. The group started over a year ago as a service project for several homeschool families. The students were able to solicit donations from area businesses to put together 246 birthday bags filled with party supplies, treats, crafts, toys and basic living essentials. The bags were distributed at 8 different Floyd County schools this past school year.
“We worked with Brighter Day (part of Action Ministries Rome) and local schools to identify children whose parents may not be financially able to give the child a birthday party or provide any way of celebrating their special day,” she says. “We don’t get to see any of the kids open their bags. We simply drop the bags off at the school each month and the staff delivers them to the students.”
Warden says the response to the program has been overwhelming with lots of positive feedback from school staff.
“The birthday bags have been a wonderful idea this year. The children have enjoyed getting a bag on their special day. I had one child tell me that she was so happy to get the birthday bag because now she could celebrate at home. She said that her mom and dad didn’t have money to buy anything and she wasn’t going to get to celebrate. The birthday bag really made her day,” says Zegie Hillard, school counselor at Cave Spring Elementary.
School Counselor Sarah Peek at Model Elementary says, “Brighter Birthdays has put a brighter smile on the face of many children at Model Elementary. You can see their happiness when they receive the sweet gift. They know their birthday is being remembered.”
The response has been so great, the group just became a 501c3, not-for-profit service organization, so they can expand the program into both Floyd County and Rome City Schools and solicit even more donations for the expanding program.
“This upcoming school year, we plan to expand into the Rome City Schools where the need is so much greater. About 46% of city students and 33% of county students are receiving some sort of government assistance or living below the poverty level. So far, we’ve had requests for at least 1,500 bags and that is not even from all the schools in both systems,” says Warden.
Their goal for the 2017-2018 school year is to pack at least 1,000 bags, which is a huge increase over this year. The students plan to meet every other month to pack bags, or more often if necessary, and will solicit help from local church youth group. The biggest need now is for monetary and goods donations for the 1,000 bags.
“We really need financial donations to purchase items for the bags. We’d love for a business or individual to sponsor our backpack bags so we can get them all printed with the same logo,” she says.
Donations of kid-friendly promotional items from businesses are also needed including pens, pencils, stickers, brackets, frisbees, notepads, etc. The group also needs donations of gender neutral birthday party items including plates, napkins, hats, party blowers and balloons.
“We don’t know the age or gender of the children, so items need to be just the neutral ‘Happy Birthday’ party supplies,” says Warden.
The deadline for goods donations is June 30, 2017. Please contact Brighter Birthdays at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange donation drop-off. You can also make monetary donations online via their website at www.brighterbirthdays.org.
As for the future, Warden says the program can easily be replicated in other communities, especially if there are folks interested in packing bags. “I definitely can see others benefiting from this as well in the future, but this year, we will focus on Rome and Floyd County schools.”