Did you know that over 3,000 children living in Charlotte are homeless, or that more than 125 babies in our community were born into homelessness since last year? These are difficult statistics to imagine. Worse yet, we know that these innocent victims of circumstance suffer three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems compared to children with stable home environments. Their lives are filled with day-to-day struggles of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and constant uncertainty.
Imagine your childhood being consumed by these emotions. Imagine the sadness that a homeless child feels when he wishes he could just fit in and do the same “normal” things that other kids do. Imagine his desire to be the center of attention, instead of feeling inadequate and invisible.
Imagine a baby’s first “home” being a small, shared room at a homeless shelter. This tiny child’s innocent life begins amid circumstances filled with obstacles, hopelessness, and uncertainty.
These devastating emotional effects of homelessness on children contribute to high rates of emotional and behavioral problems among such children of poverty. Working to combat these effects are the programs of Birthday Blessings, an all-volunteer nonprofit that celebrates the lives of homeless children by lifting spirits, boosting confidence, broadening horizons, and supporting basic needs. Funding from Speedway Children’s Charities helps make all of this possible.
Our Shelter Party Program brings the simple childhood joy of birthday parties to homeless children ages tots to teens -- a first-time experience for most -- while giving them a sense of recognition and value on their special days. Our shelter celebrations create a time of togetherness for families, and include all of the traditional party excitement: cake, decorations, gifts, goodie bags, along with complete meals to help support basic needs. We offer a variety of educational and enrichment activities or programs that provide experiences these children may not otherwise have access to.
Our Student Birthdays Program anonymously serves transient homeless children by providing classroom birthday parties for homeless elementary students and Party-In-A-Bag Kits for homeless middle school students. At school, homeless elementary students feel empowerment and a sense of normalcy as they become givers in a peer environment, which boosts their confidence and creates joy on their special days. For homeless middle school students, our take-home party kits offer a chance for teens to feel a sense of positive self-worth and help strengthen family bonds during times of hardship. All children served through our Student Birthdays Program do not live in area shelters, but rather in motels, campgrounds, and other transient situations. Student birthday packages also include gifts, as well as care essentials, and a blanket to help support critical needs.
And finally, our Blessing Baskets Program helps welcome and celebrate the arrival of homeless babies while supplementing their basic needs. These baskets -- filled with new clothing, gifts, and care essentials -- not only bring happiness and hope to needy mothers, but provide a healthy and positive start to life for homeless babies.
So, now imagine an eight-year-old girl at a homeless shelter grinning from ear to ear as she prepares to blow out candles on her birthday cake for the very first time, or a homeless teenage boy who joyfully tears up as a crowd of voices sings “Happy Birthday” -- to him! Picture a newborn baby -- whose first “home” is a small room at an emergency shelter -- wrapped in fresh blankets and showered with all that’s needed for a healthy and positive start to life. Imagine a homeless fourth-grader, confident and proud, as he delivers birthday treats to classmates on his special day, just like everyone else.
These are the stories of Birthday Blessings. They may seem simple, and most of us likely take these things for granted because we’ve always had them; but for homeless children, it’s the world. It’s a chance to feel normal. It’s a chance to be singled out in a positive, empowering way. It’s a chance to bond with family and friends, a chance to feel that life is worth celebrating, that life is hopeful, despite the circumstances.
Funding from Speedway Children’s Charities enables Birthday Blessings to reach thousands of homeless children and their families each year and provide them with positive emotional experiences that lift spirits, boost confidence, broaden horizons, and help support basic needs. It is through their generosity that we are able to bring educational and enrichment programs, offer meals, and provide services to support our programs for homeless children across four counties in the greater Charlotte region.
Amy Cervantes, Volunteer Executive Director