November 8, 2013
Susan Haviland – Associate Director, Birthday Wishes www.birthdaywishes.org
Birthday Wishes was founded in November 2002 by three friends and colleagues who wanted to help homeless children build self-esteem. Having volunteered in several homeless shelters, it occurred to the trio – as they attended one of their own children’s birthday parties – that at the shelters, children’s birthdays often came and went uncelebrated. Their subsequent research indicated that no organizations existed exclusively to provide birthday parties to children living in homeless shelters. After speaking with local shelters and state advocacy groups, they found that most homeless shelters do not have the personnel or resources necessary to hold birthday parties for the children who stay there. Furthermore, the parent (usually a mom) is often unable, both economically and emotionally, to organize a party for her child. Some parents, embarrassed that they don’t have money for cakes and presents, don’t even tell their children that they have a birthday. For homeless children, birthday parties are a luxury that neither the parent nor the shelter can afford.
The first parties were held at the Second Step shelter in Newton, MA. Within a few months, 8 more shelters were added, and within three years growth had doubled. Today Birthday Wishes serves more than 185 shelters and transitional living facilities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Long Island, New York. Our goal is to provide birthday parties to all homeless children in Massachusetts and to make our model available to homeless family programs nationwide.