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Birthday Parties That Give Back

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When I plan my son's February birthday parties, I feel like we have barely put away the Christmas gifts, so thinking about a deluge of new birthday toys being jammed in our small home gives me hives. If the thought of your children getting even more stuff for their birthday makes you uneasy, consider birthday ideas that downplay the gifts and provide ways to give back to your community.

Get the Buy-In

This is the trickiest part, and it has to be done first. You've got to persuade your child that it is an awesome idea to turn the focus on others on his special day. Start talking about it sooner than later. Don't wait until a few weeks before the birthday party to ask the birthday kid if he would mind giving away all his presents to charity; it won't work out well because the birthday momentum has already started. Instead, foster values of compassion and service in your home throughout the year. Volunteer as a family once a month, talk openly and appropriately about challenges that face other families and lead by example.

Get the Birthday Kid Involved

Involve the birthday kid in as many aspects of planning as possible. Kristy, mom of three, worked with her daughter Avery to plan her fifth birthday to benefit needy kids. Avery, who threw the birthday party with her bestie Ellie, chose a local family crisis center because they liked the number of children the organization helped on a daily basis. Many of the children were their age and relied on the crisis center for food, shelter and advice. When they sent out invitations, Avery and Ellie asked that everyone bring supplies for the crisis center instead of gifts. Kristy had called the center to find out what specific items they needed and included a list on the invitations.

Avery and Ellie had a blast at their birthday party and still felt celebrated. After everyone left, Avery and Ellie filled an entire car full of snacks and supplies, and Kristy took Avery, Ellie and their little brothers to the crisis center to drop off the goodies. The staff was very appreciative, and Kristy watched Avery and Ellie beam with pride. The birthday party not only benefitted the families who rely on the crisis center, but Avery and Ellie learned a lesson in compassion, empathy and service.

Get the Party Guests Involved

One of the best parts of a birthday that gives back is the chance to inspire your guests to help others, too. For my son's third birthday party, we celebrated with a pirate theme at an indoor swimming pool. When we sent the party invitations, we included a note asking our guests to take part in a Pirate's Booty Challenge that would raise money for Feed My Starving Children. We included the charity's website address so parents could learn more. We asked them to collect change over the next month to bring to our celebration. We encouraged them to check couch cushions, dig in the piggy bank and ask grandparents for a few extra quarters. Each family was able to talk about helping others for an entire month before the birthday party.

At the party, we set out a pirate's chest we had painted next to the cupcakes, and everyone emptied their jars of change into it. The kids loved watching the chest fill up, and by the time the party was over, it was full of change. Everyone left feeling inspired and glad that their quarters and dimes were going to make a difference. The next day, we took the change to the bank with our son. We watched the total climb to more than $100. Our son was so excited that all the change was going to feed fellow kids.

How to Get Started

Allow your children to choose who to help. You could suggest charities that are similar to your children's interests, such as an animal shelter if your children love dogs; a program at your place of worship; or an organization that gives supplies to children their age. If you have older children, consider turning the birthday party into a service project. You can make sack lunches for the homeless or hats for the oncology unit of a children's hospital. Always contact the service organizations beforehand to ask what they need. Don't assume that you know what they need because sometimes what they actually need will surprise you.

Your service project does not have to be the star of the birthday party. You can start with a small side donation, and then who knows where it will lead year after year?

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