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Teens Offer Financially Struggling Families a 'Birthday Wish'

by Kristen L.

I started Birthday Wish with five of my friends in the winter of our Teens Offer Financially Struggling Families a 'Birthday Wish'freshman year of high school(2006). We started it after Youth Venture, an organization that helps teenagers make a difference in the community by granting seed-money to start non-profits, came to our school looking for motivated teens.

My friends and I got together at a workshop and brainstormed ideas. We realized how significant a birthday party is to any child. Personally, I can vividly remember almost every birthday party I've ever had. Surrounding a child with family and friends in a positive atmosphere creates memories and establishes family values that last a lifetime. The thought of a child missing that experience because of financial impediments was truly heartbreaking. The first idea to come up involved baking cakes for parties. Soon that first idea evolved into Birthday Wish.

Over the past two and a half years, we have made over 80 themed party packages and donated them to SHARE, a coalition of churches meeting the needs of struggling families in Milford, NH, and Marguerite's Place, a residential place for single mothers and their families in Nashua, NH. Each package contains a variety of party supplies and allows a financially struggling family to throw their children a birthday party. The response we have received from both organizations has been very encouraging.

Serving through Birthday Wish has taught me more than I ever thought it would. Not only are we making a difference, but we are enjoying ourselves.Shopping for party supplies, assembling themed packages, running fundraisers and helping out at kids' birthday parties is not work – it's fun. I have been inspired by the people I work alongside, including my friends, and the incredible workers at Youth Venture. My friends and I have become closer throughout the process and we have learned countless skills that will help us in the work world.

If there is one thing I learned throughout this whole experience, it is that young people can make a difference. Youth Venture gave us the tools to get a business off the ground at the age of 15 and we have kept it going strong. It is extremely rewarding to put hours and hours of effort into something and then be able to see the end result in my community. Helping others is just a necessary part of life.

I would encourage every single young person to find something they want to change in their community and make it happen.My advice to them would be: Don't think you can't get it done, don't think a task is too big and never give up.There are many outlets like Youth Venture that help you get started and then give you independence to make a change on your own.

Birthday Wish has run into multiple obstacles. We constantly have to fight against busy high school schedules, but we try our hardest to make time for Birthday Wish.At the moment, like many other non-profits, we are struggling to make money. This obstacle has forced us to come together and think outside the box about creative fundraisers. We don't give up because we know that there are people depending on us.

Next year, we are all entering our senior year of high school which means it is time to think about passing on Birthday Wish. It will be exciting to see what they do with Birthday Wish in the future, but it will be hard to let it go. I plan to continue serving the community throughout my college years and beyond.I will help out with Birthday Wishwhen I visit from college, and I have considered working for a non-profit in the future. Serving the community is something I will always do. If we aren't helping others in some way, we aren't living to our full potential.

Kristin and her friends got started with Ashoka’s Youth Venture. To start a service project of your own and recruit a volunteer team, visit www.SERVE.gov or support similar front-line agencies in your community, keyword search: "at-risk youth" "shelter” “adopt-a-family”

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