Last weekend, my kids went to two different parties, each with its share of gifts, games and goodies. Next weekend, they've got another friend's birthday party in the lineup, and there's sure to be more of the same. I know that my family is lucky, but sometimes I forget how truly lucky we are.
Sometimes I forget that there are kids who have never celebrated a birthday — their own or anyone's else's. I forget that there are children who have no idea what happens at a birthday party.
But then I hear about someone like Pittsburgh resident Megan Yunn and my heart is at once broken and restored. Yunn is the founder of Beverly's Birthdays, a nonprofit that celebrates the birthdays of kids in need. Yunn launched the initiative in 2012, after a heart-breaking encounter with a 12-year-old girl named Beverly.
Yunn was working as the director of volunteer programs at a small university near Pittsburgh when she visited one of her center's youth program sites and sat down with Beverly to help her with her homework. Yunn, or Miss Megs as her students called her, was trying to help Beverly understand what the word, "accustomed" meant.
Using the word in a sentence, Yunn asked Beverely, "At birthday parties, people are accustomed to eating what?" Her question was met with a blank stare. After Yunn explained the word further, Beverly replied, "Miss Megs, I have never had a birthday party or eaten a slice of birthday cake." Yunn told People magazine that she felt like she had been punched in the stomach.
A nonprofit is born
A few month's later, Yunn left her job and launched Beverly's Birthdays, a nonprofit organization named after the young girl who changed Yunn's life. The mission of Beverly's Birthdays is simple: help kids in need celebrate their birthdays. To do this, Yunn partners with local agencies to host free birthday parties for kids who are poor, homeless, live in shelters or foster homes or simply don't have the means to celebrate their birthdays.
Beverly's Birthdays also offers "birthday-in-a-bag" options for families to take home. Birthday bags include cake mix, balloons and candles. Yunn's organization even offers birthday kits for schools to help teachers celebrate kids whose parents are not able to send in cupcakes or other special treats to share with their classmates. And to celebrate children from the very start, the organization offers showers for new mothers and their babies who might not have any other means of support when they get home from the hospital.
Thanks to the help of around 200 volunteers, Beverly's Birthdays hosts about 120 group birthday parties every year. The group has also distributed more than 430 birthday kits to families and schools over the 2016-2017 school year.
"Everyone should know that they are loved, cared for, that they’re noticed and special," Yunn said.