Person of the Week
Founder and Director Sweet Celebrations -- Birthdays for Homeless
The answer to being able to do all this is having a full heart to provide something for the community and at the same time believe in it. If you do this, you are going to succeed. There are people who will tell you this is not true, but I’m here to tell you it is true.
1. What led you to the mission of being the founder and director of Sweet Celebrations?
I am a Big Sister for the organization Big Brothers Big Sisters. I’ve been a Big Sister for my Little Sister for four years. Her fifteenth birthday was two years ago. On her fifteenth birthday she told me that morning that she lost the shelter her family was staying in and they were going to have to sleep in a car. Her birthday is in October and that was going to be a very cold night.
Of course I wanted to find some housing outside of a car for her. I went into Facebook and asked my friends and family, “Hey. I can do a night or two, but I’d like to give her a little more comfort. Can anyone help me help her?” I got an outpouring of help just through my little campaign with family and friends.
What happened during that time frame that I was collecting money to get her temporary housing, was that my family and friends said things like, “Hey, I want to donate $25. Take ten of it and get her a birthday cake or a birthday present – whatever the case may be. We ended up collecting quite a bit of money for her birthday. This campaign was had not been intended as a promotion for her birthday.
With the money people donated for her birthday, we went out and had one awesome birthday celebration. We went to dinner and then went and got clothes for her. This was also functional because she had lost all her clothes. At that point in time she ended up getting permanent housing that she is still in today. She and I decided to continue on with the idea of celebrating birthdays. We came up with the concept of having birthdays for the less fortunate. Sweet Celebrations was founded in November of 2013. Sweet Celebrations is a volunteer led nonprofit organization that services the homeless community by providing birthday parties for each child (To learn more about Sweet Celebrations click here.)
2. What does this mission mean to you?
My answer is absolutely full of emotions – all that you can feel at one time. I have an incredible amount of pride. I am so proud of everyone. I was able to lead my Little Sister from being homeless to serving the homeless. I’m proud of my two children who are fifteen and eleven. Sweet Celebrations has celebrated giving 103 birthdays this past year and my two children have helped with least eighty percent of those birthdays. The same is true of my Little Sister.
One hundred and three is a pretty awesome number for birthdays in one year. I went to 100% of 103 celebrations. One birthday is about $100. We have forty-five cake donors. They have been the sole suppliers of our cakes. They are the most extraordinary cakes in the world. You can see them online. (To see some of the cakes, click here.) We are grateful to Baskin Robbins for the ice cream they have donated to the homeless children. We play games based on the children’s interests. We don’t just go in and play Pin The Tail On The Donkey or Hot Potato, but we go in and pick things that the specific child will like. For instance, we have a child who likes the movie Frozen. We will have a game called, “Toss the snowball into the bucket” and we’re going to play “Pass the wand” which will be like Hot Potato for them. We’ve also made Olaf from Frozen from Styrofoam cups. We’ll stack them and we’ll let the kids throw snowballs and knock the Olaf over.
We make our parties very special and unique. I can’t say that we have ever repeated a party. That is something special to Sweet Celebrations. We take the time to find out what the child likes and who they are as a person and make the activities based off of that and as well make all the children at the shelters like the party.
I have joy, enthusiasm, and passion. I couldn’t think of one negative thing to say about Sweet Celebrations. Everyone is entitled to bad days or crabby days. But we really stop and think before going to a Sweet Celebrations party and refocus our brain a little bit because these people don’t often have these opportunities to celebrate. You walk in there and even if it is a bad day you are going to walk out with a big smile on your face. At the end of the day when you remember that child and that celebration, it’s one of the most warm feelings you will ever have in your heart.
3. What was your best day being founder and director of Sweet Celebrations?
The best day was at one of the shelters. We had some trouble with some of the kids. One of the children was not making good choices. You could tell he was having an internal struggle. We came to this shelter some other times and he was still making poor choices.
We went to the shelter one day and he was waiting at the door for me. As soon as I got there he said, “I’m glad you are here.” I said, “I’m glad I’m here too. What’s going on?” He said that he wanted to be my big party helper. I told him, “I would love that.” For the next couple of months he was my big party helper at this shelter. He would still make some bad choices, but he was starting to make some good choices as well.
At our very last party of the year, one of his social workers came to me and spoke to me. She told me he wanted to speak to me about this child. My heart sank. I thought, “Gosh, what did he do?” We had developed a relationship and I was concerned about him. But this social worker told me that this same child had won an award at school for good behavior. He had not made a bad choice for a whole week straight. The child told the people at school that he wanted to be a good helper at school the way he was at the birthday parties. It’s one of the most incredible feelings that I have ever had in my life.
When we started Sweet Celebrations, we expected it to be a short-term impact on these children’s lives. What I failed to realize is the longer impact we have on some of these children’s lives. It’s left me speechless. It still does because it is an incredible gift that this child gave me as well as the gift I was able to give him.
4. What was your worst day being?
We’ve done only teen parties or only kid parties. Sometimes there are at least seventy-five kids of all age groups. One time we were having a party for a twelve-year old group. We had some really fun games planned. We were ready to rock and roll. I had my enthusiasm voice on. I was ready to go. The kids were running around. I told them we were supposed to get together and start doing these games.
I found out that none of them had been to a birthday party before. They were not used to a structured event. The first thing that happened is that two kids, siblings, started to fight. One of them tripped another. They pinned each other down. We had to get them settled down.
Then we were ready to rock and roll again and start the party. We started a game where one kid had to stack apples as fast as he could. He lost. The kid got so mad that he lost that he took the apples and chucked them against the wall. I walked out of that party and was disappointed. This was the only time I have ever been disappointed at a party. I was stressed and was wondering how I was going to recoup and recover. I was going to have to think how I was going to throw parties when this kind of thing happens. Since then we have figured out what to do. We realized there is a little bit of trial and error that goes on when working with kids.
5. How did you survive your worst day being the founder and director of Sweet Celebrations?
A little bit of stubbornness. I have expectations that there is always going to be some sort of hiccup or bad and good. If you can get past it and know that a child is going to make a poor choice, there are still other children that want to have a good experience. Sometimes you have to ignore the bad behavior and emphasize the good behavior. That’s exactly what we had to do at this shelter. We made a point of telling the kids with good behavior what they were doing and gave them extra hugs. I don’t really like the term bad or good – it is really about making good choices. I know there are people who need Sweet Celebrations and I have been able to push through.
6. What advice do you have for someone who would like to be a founder and director of a nonprofit?
The main thing is to go in with a full heart. If you go in with a full heart, you can accomplish anything. I coach volleyball. I work full time. I have two children. I’m married. I run Sweet Celebrations, which is close to a full time job. The answer to being able to do all this is having a full heart to provide something for the community and believe in it. If you do this, you are going to succeed. There are people who will tell you this is not true, but I’m here to tell you it is true. You might have to have some tools in place, but dedication to a project is what is the key to us becoming successful in such a short time.