Eighth Grader Making Birthday Wishes Come True For Less Fortunate Kids

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Every child has a birthday wish. But some children from poor or homeless families don’t get those wishes fulfilled, which is why eighth grader Yasmine Davis decided to step in and make a difference.

Davis and her family are founders of the nonprofit  Make a Birthday Wish, which provides presents and birthday parties for more than 300 disadvantaged children and teens in the Silicon Valley.

Along with her mom, Nike McDonald, Davis shops for presents for children and teenagers, then throws a party complete with decorations and cake for all the birthday boys and girls of one month. The children and teens are matched to Make a Birthday Wish through West Valley Community Services (WVCS).

“The kids all have a wish list, so we try and get them what’s on the wish list so they’ll be happy with their presents,” Davis said. “And even if we can’t they’re still really happy with the birthday party.”

While not shopping, planning, and party hosting—a volunteer job that keeps her busy for up to eight hours every weekend and sometimes after school—Davis is a student at Kennedy Middle School in Cupertino, where she keeps up good grades and plays sports.

She is far from being a typical teen, however, since she is completely poised and composed speaking as a young leader of a nonprofit.

Davis got the idea with McDonald after watching an episode of Oprah in 2009, in which the plight of homeless children was highlighted.

“We wanted to do something to help the kids out, so we thought of doing birthday parties and gifts for them,” Davis said.

The first two years of Make a Birthday Wish, McDonald and her husband donated their own money to buy presents for underprivileged children. Later they decided Davis was old enough to play more of a role in the efforts, so they partnered with WVCS and began hosting the parties. They also reached out to the larger community to raise money and collect gift donations so that they could serve even more children.

McDonald said they started with WVCS, headquartered in their city of Cupertino, because they wanted to “start with our own backyard, and then hopefully branch out from there.”

The two added that there is a misconception that children from the mostly affluent area WVCS serves—Cupertino, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga and West San Jose—don’t need as much assistance as children from less affluent communities. They also said a homeless child might not be on the streets, but staying with relatives or others.

“I think sometimes it might be a little harder, because their friends are having birthday parties,” said McDonald. “They’re surrounded by friends who do have money.”

One of the children on the group’s list asked for several movie passes and money to go out for ice cream afterward.

“She’s always gone to birthday parties of her friends, and she’s never had one,” McDonald said. “Stories like that touch us.”

A few of the children are disabled, and for them it’s not just the special gift chosen just for them that matters, it’s the party itself. Parents have told McDonald that their children often are not invited to others’ birthday parties.

“The birthday party helps everyone get together and feel included,” Davis said.

Because the group is all volunteer, money donated goes directly to buying birthday gifts, the pair said. People and businesses also donate new and gently used items, or goodies for the monthly parties. Local bakers donate cupcakes and cake pops.

“Some of the gifts (the children) want are bicycles or maybe clothing like skinny jeans, or boots, jackets, socks, bed sheets, or even a bed,” for those children who don’t have their own place to sleep, Davis said. Other items include sports lessons, or even small items like nail polish and other “girlie” gifts, she said.

The Make a Birthday Wish volunteers have a meeting with the children and their parents at the start of the year to meet them in person and find out what birthday gifts they are dreaming about, as well as what some of their more realistic needs are.

At the monthly parties, Davis’ middle school friends join in as volunteers, decorating, organizing the presents, interacting with the children, and even cleaning up afterwards.

“It’s good for the girls. The parents are excited about it,” McDonald said, calling the young volunteers, “amazing”.

“It helps me be more grateful for what I have, and not take for granted anything,” Davis said of the parties. It’s just a really great feeling to be with all the kids and see how appreciative they are for Make a Birthday Wish.”

Make a Birthday Wish is a 501c3 organization; all donations are tax deductible. In addition to cash donations to buy gifts, the group also accepts donations of gently used items, including party decorations, gift bags, and even the fronts of used birthday cards. Contact the group to find out more information.

This story is featured in the  Good Neighbor Stories 2013 Datebook! Start every day feeling good about the world!

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