Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be homeless during your birthday? Usually, when I think of my own birthday memories, I think of friends and family together, a nice restaurant, conversations and laughter. But my children’s memories of past birthdays are not so great. It used to be that their birthdays at the shelter would go by almost unnoticed. We would give them a voucher to get a present from our toy room, but that was about all we could do.
That is not the case anymore. For about two years now, a group of teenagers from St. John’s High School comes faithfully at the end of each month. They transform our classrooms into birthday party lands: balloons, crafts, goody bags…even a piñata! The kids come into the classroom excited to see the decorations. They decorate their goody bags and get ready to break the piñata and share candy. Then the birthday kids step up to the middle of the classroom as we all sing happy birthday. Some of the birthdays kids get teary eyed when they hear their name in the birthday song. Some of them cover their faces with embarrassment (they’re so cute!) Then the birthday kids help our volunteers cut the cake and distribute it to their classmates. During the blessing of the food, we all say grace and thank God for the fun, the food, and the laughter of that day.
Yesterday afternoon, as I was making sure to inform parents that we were going to celebrate March birthdays that evening, one of the birthday kids in particular touched my heart. He was a new kid and didn’t know we celebrated birthdays at Star of Hope.
When I told him and his mom to make sure to come to our programs at 6pm because we were going to celebrate his birthday, he said “For real? Man, us birthday kids are going to have fun!”
“...But,” he said to his friends with a look of sadness, “if we were having it at my house, I would invite all of you to come.”
“They can come, Jack,” I clarified. “Everyone is invited.”
His face immediately lit up and he shouted to everyone in the classroom “Hey, you all! It’s my birthday tonight! I want all of you to come!” The goodness and generosity of our kids never ceases to amaze me. Here was this kid who had no idea someone was going to do something special for him for his birthday. But he was not worried about whether or not he would get a present, or what kind of cake he was going to have (as most kids his would be). What he was worried about was being able to share all those cool things with his friends.
Jack had a wonderful time last night. He cut the cake and passed it out to all his friends. When he was done serving his friends, he asked the volunteers if they could help him cut some more pieces. The volunteers told him everyone had been served. “I know,” he said to them. “But I want you to have some too.”
...Best birthday party memory ever.