Birthday in a Bag!
I want to introduce you to our guest blogger, Riya Thorson, who has started an amazing project in her community – which also happens to be right down the road from me….
Riya Thorson: A little about me…I am a Virginia Beach resident, founder of HIT & Run fitness studio, a mama to an adorable 3 year old (totally biased), and have worked in law enforcement my entire adult life. Needless to say, I care about people and have dedicated my life to helping them make theirs better. I wish I was creative enough to have come up with the Birthday in a Bag Project on my own, but it is definitely a borrowed idea from a friend who is a social worker in North Carolina. My creativity may have been lacking, but my imagination is not. I can envision each child’s face when he/she blows out those candles and each parent standing a little bit taller, a little bit prouder because they were able to celebrate their child’s life. My hope is these babies (I call all kids babies, no matter their age) and parents can forget about their troubles for a few minutes and completely engulf themselves in this joy! Let the party begin!! ~
Birthday in a Bag–because no child should go without a celebration of their life!
One night I was browsing FaceBook when I came to a post about creating a birthday party in a bag for children living in transitional housing or shelters who wouldn’t otherwise get one.
I read it, and I re-read it, and by the end of the night, I knew I had to be a part of it.
Admittedly I am a big birthday person. And maybe that’s because my mom was a big birthday person. Some of my most vivid and most exciting memories from childhood involve my birthday parties. I can even vividly remember most of my friends’ birthday parties! I have certainly passed my love for everything birthdays onto my son, who is yet too young to realize it!
It really hit me when I realized that there are children, many probably, in our community whose birthdays aren’t being celebrated. I wanted to change this, and on a bigger scale. So I mentioned this idea to my friend who works at a local women’s shelter, the Samaritan House, she loved it. We hashed out some details with ideas for making this an ongoing project, and got right to it!
Here’s a few tidbits about The Samaritan House, and why I was drawn to their shelter –
Shelter – they have 8 emergency homes that house 2-3 families each depending on size. They typically have about 100 individuals in their temporary housing a night.
Re-housing- There are 2 housing locators on staff that work with clients to get them permanent housing working with their budgets and local landlords. They assist clients with services up to a year after they move into permanent housing, and sometimes longer.
24-hour crisis hotline – They are available 24 hours to answer questions, connect people with services, etc.
Victim Advocacy – They provide staff that work with the detective bureau to reach out to people after a domestic call has been made and offer assistance. These individuals are also at the courthouse 5 days a week to be with clients as they are applying for protective orders, custody and other needs. They also offer safety planning to individuals that reach out to us but are not ready to leave their situation or don’t know how.
Support Group – They have 2 support groups. 1 for victims that is weekly and 1 for friends and family that want guidance and to talk to others experiencing similar incidents with loved ones. This support group meets 1x a month right now.
Counseling – They partner with the YWCA to have counseling on site at our main office for clients.
Children’s Center of Excellence – Each child that comes in with their parent is assessed with three different tools for any trauma they may have experienced. Depending on the assessments, they will connect the client with community services or other therapists based on need.
“Samaritan House is Hampton Roads’ trusted domestic violence resource offering services to stop violence with education and training, safety planning and court assistance; and services to heal violence with counseling, support groups, children’s programs and more. Samaritan House is Virginia’s largest emergency housing provider serving the community since 1984.”
The shelter’s Major Gifts Officer gave me some great ideas about what to include, such as cake mix, a foil pan, icing and sprinkles, plates, napkins, streamers and other decorations…and gift wrap. She said that they usually have access to a toy or two that the parent can select, leftover from a recent holiday drive or other donations. But they’re NOT WRAPPED. What?! We need to change this! The anticipation and excitement of unwrapping a present is half the fun! So we are throwing in some gift bags and tissue paper for easy wrapping.
As a parent, I am constantly trying to find that balance of wanting to give my son the world…but also teach him that he is not the center of the world! I LOVE throwing his birthday party each year and planning for special gifts that I know will make him light up. And while I want to do this for him, I want him to realize how blessed we are to be able to do this.
On the surface, this project might seem trivial…it’s just a birthday party right?
But no, I think this is so meaningful in so many ways…
1) It helps the mothers learn how to do something for their children. How to put time and thought into an event to celebrate their child. Birthday parties have probably never been a tradition in most of their families, so they can learn how to create a family tradition.
2) It helps a child feel special and celebrated. Enough said!
3) It helps my own child realize how fortunate we are, and how we can help others. It is a simple act that can be done year-round, and is especially meaningful when done in collaboration with their own birthday party. It empowers my child that he can help, and allows him to see how wonderful that looks and feels.
So grab your kids and do some shopping! You can put together a bag easily for $20 by shopping at Walmart or the dollar store! You can also throw in party supplies left over from your own kids’ parties – I included some balloons and plates from Waylon’s party that we didn’t use in our bag.
I’d love to have you participate in our project and donate your bag to The Samaritan House and if you’re local, you can drop it off at HIT & Run (400 Laskin Road) where we are collecting the bags for drop off…and if you’re not local, find a shelter where you live and make some magic in a child’s life! The point is to do this with your children. It’s really a PERFECT opportunity to involve your child in giving back – let them choose the colors, the decorations, the flavor of cake and icing. Let THEM give another child a birthday party.