By Marisa Laudadio
For many kids, their birthday is one of the most exciting days of the year. Unfortunately, this is not always the case for Youth Villages’ children. For children receiving help on our residential campuses, birthdays can serve as a painful reminder that they are not home with their families. However, thanks to the Birthday Heroes program and volunteers like Marianne Elliott and Debra Swain, birthdays at the Youth Villages-Inner Harbour Campus birthdays can still be a time of celebration.
The Birthday Heroes program at Youth Villages-Inner Harbour campus began almost two years ago when members of North River Church of Christ in Marietta decided they wanted to get involved in their community.
Marianne Elliot reached out to Kimmy Yon, community engagement manager, about starting a monthly birthday celebration for children at the campus.
Yon loved the idea and welcomed the volunteers. After being trained on how to work with the children and what activities were safe for the kids, the volunteers got to work.
“Their presence has been consistent, supportive and caring since they began,” Yon said. “They make our campus a better place when they are here!”
Each month, volunteers come to campus to celebrate the kids who have birthdays that month. If no one has a birthday, volunteers still host a party so the kids have something to look forward to.
Rather than focusing on physical gifts or toys that the children could outgrow or lose, Birthday Hero volunteers share the gift of quality time to make the kids feel loved on their special day.
“We’re trying to show God’s love just by spending time with the children,” Elliott said. “Every child – every person – is special. Every person is unique to God, so they need to be to us as well.”
According to Swain, this event is more than just a birthday party. It means someone wants to spend time with the children and get to know them.
“It lets them know there are people that care,” Swain said. “That there are people that are reaching out to them. That there is hope.”
Each party lasts for about an hour and a half. Volunteers bring birthday cards with stickers and play games, read stories, do crafts, sing happy birthday and eat cupcakes and ice cream.
Five to eight adults is ideal for hosting a party with enough people to coordinate everything and keep things going. However, the Marietta-based team has hosted parties with as few as two adults before.
To find out more about how you can help children or to become a Birthday Hero, contact Kimmy Yon at firstname.lastname@example.org.