Charity Celebrations: The Gift of Benevolence

by Denise Yearian

Alison Rein had a big shebang to celebrate her 7th birthday. But the party wasn’t just for her. Alison shared her birthday with the American Cancer Society (ACS) and used it to raise money for the organization’s fund-raising event, Relay for Life.

“Alison was getting ready to turn 7 and wanted to have a party,” explains her mother Linda, who co-chair’s the local chapter of Relay for Life. “She has always seen me do work for the Cancer Society. We both thought it would be a good idea if friends who would normally give her gifts donated money instead to a good cause. And Alison naturally said, ‘How about Relay for Life?’”

Sophie Glass had a similar celebration. “About a year before my daughter’s birthday, we attended a friend’s charity birthday party and thought it was a pretty cool idea,” says Laura, mother of 5-year-old Sophie.

“Since her birthday falls in the same month as Christmas and Hanukkah, we have often pointed out to Sophie that she receives so much more than other children do on their birthdays,” she says.

When it was time to plan Sophie’s birthday, Laura presented the concept of a charity party. Sophie loved it. “I was going to just suggest the idea, then table it until next year, but it began a really healthy discussion,” says Laura.

The Child Must Agree
“Giving to others expands kids’ horizons and teaches them that there are needs greater than their own,” says Linda. She says the idea of a charity party should not be forced on kids. The child should be in total agreement. “We wanted Alison to feel like she was sharing her birthday, not having it taken away from her.”

“Birthday parties are a huge social collateral at this age,” Laura explains. “You don’t want your child to feel like he has to do it. You want him to walk away from it and feel good.”

Choosing a Cause
If your child wants a charity party, the first step is to choose a non-profit organization to support. “I told Sophie she could help pick the organization,” Laura recalls. “We talked about different facilities in our area and narrowed it down to one that helps children.”

Laura then took Sophie to the charity. “I wanted her to see that the children were really there. We met the director and toured the facility. Then after her party, she helped make the delivery.”  

Children often are interested in charities that help other children. Perhaps a family member has benefited from a non-profit cause and your child is aware of it. If he loves animals, he could choose a local animal refuge.
Once your child chooses a charity, find out what is needed. Sometimes it is monetary donations. Other times it’s a type of item. 

“The organization we went with provided us with a profile of each child so we could purchase things for them,” Laura remembers. “I liked the idea of having the guests purchase gifts rather than donating money,” she explains. “It let the kids still feel like they were part of the gift-giving process.”

“I sent out special Relay for Life invitations that said what we were doing,” recalls Linda. “Whatever Alison’s guests would spend on a gift for her, we asked that they make a donation to the Cancer Society. Family and close friends still gave her birthday presents.”

Wide Participation
“Because of my Cancer Society connection, local companies came out and donated all kinds of things,” Linda says. “A friend who is a DJ even donated his time and provided music. We had games, giveaways, and face painting — all the things you would find at a first-grade birthday party.”

Sophie’s party was a big hit too. “It was held at a yoga studio where she had been taking lessons,” Laura says. “We let her invite as many friends as she wanted. They played yoga games and had cupcakes. It was really special for her.”

When the parties were over, both the Glasses and the Reins were pleased. “Sophie benefited from having the party,” Laura says. “But I think each kid who participated benefited too. It was the icing on the cake.”

“After Sophie’s party, I asked her if she would do it again next year,” Laura says. “Her response was, ‘One year for me, one year for the kids, one year for me, one year for the kids…’”

Denise Yearian is a freelance writer.