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Throwing birthday parties for poor children is a gift in itself

Actor Chris Pine once said: "The only thing you sometimes have control over is perspective. You don’t have control over your situation. But you have a choice about how you view it."

I’d have to agree with him, thanks to some sweet kids I’ve met through Birthday Squad of Buffalo, a nonprofit organization that, since 2009, has been throwing birthday parties for impoverished children who might not otherwise have a chance to celebrate their birthdays.

Some of the kids’ mothers have said that they never even had a birthday celebration themselves.

The parties are held at various shelters and Boys and Girls Clubs in the Buffalo area. Some of the children at the parties are immigrants or refugees, some are athletes, some are Buffalo kids, some are poor.

Most are happy.

I believe that it doesn’t matter where you came from, but it does matter who you are. When I started volunteering, I thought I was I was going to just help kids celebrate their birthdays and hopefully make their life a little bit happier. Instead, I’ve met people who have changed my life forever. I’ve been helped in ways that I would never have imagined.

These kids often lack some of what others might consider "basics" in life, like food and a bed, but they continue to be cheerful and optimistic. The joy that emanates from them in almost tangible waves is unwavering.

Once we were celebrating a boy’s birthday at a homeless shelter and his gifts included the football he had wanted.

A few minutes after he unwrapped it, he asked if he could give a gift of his to someone else. Well, yes, I said, it’s yours. Then he walked over to a little boy who was about 5 years old, put his arm around him and gave him the football. It was the best handoff ever.

This struck me and has stuck with me, as his small gesture may have been the biggest act of generosity I have ever witnessed. Life is about sacrifice, and this homeless boy sacrificed his birthday gift to make someone else happy. That’s kindness.

Recently, we threw a party at a Boys and Girls Club and I was talking to a very bubbly, bright 6-year-old named Savion. I asked him what the nicest thing he has ever done for someone, and he said: "If someone ever gets hurt, I will always ask if they are OK and help them back up."

He was very excited to talk about school. He is in first grade and describes it as very fun because he gets to play and do math. Savion said the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for him is to "say nice things."

I met a remarkable woman from Afghanistan at a shelter who is the mother of four beautiful children. Once she and her kids moved out of the shelter, the Birthday Squad couldn’t help them anymore. But I personally decided that I wanted to help her and I found a way to get in touch with her. With the help of friends, we furnished their entire apartment.

Her children came to the United States not speaking the language or knowing anyone, and now they not only speak English almost flawlessly but they live comfortably.

Diana is intelligent, selfless and incredibly courageous. She is hopeful because of, "the way we are being treated equally, the freedom of religion, having the right to be myself and have my own thoughts and opinions." Her kids have thrived in their new school environment and they love every second that they spend at school. Their mother said that pleases her, but she also feels a bit envious, because she didn’t grow up in a loving, peaceful school environment. She is extremely positive about her experience here, saying that almost everything in this country brings her joy.

"It’s not that I haven’t encountered racist and heartless people, but I have befriended so many people whom I call angels on earth," she said. "Thank you, world."

Life isn’t about where we come from or what we have, but where we’ve come and who we are.

I’m grateful that I’m able to meet people from all walks of life, because they have given me such an optimistic perspective. That is a perfect gift.

Annie Schmit is a junior at Clarence High School.


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