By Christine Murray

Spreading the Joy of Birthdays to Kids in Foster Care: The New “Evan’s Wish” Program from Foster Friends of NC

I admit it. I am “one of those” parents who like to go all out for my kids’ birthdays. If time and money were no object, I am sure that I would go completely overboard. I’m pretty sure that I’m the kind of parent that has led other parents to begin organizing around the goal of making kids’ birthday parties simpler and less pressured.

I could blame it on my parents, as friends of mine from childhood still share memories from the parties my parents threw for my twin sister and me—complete with clowns, magicians, and games that took over the entire house. But, the truth is that celebrating my kids on their birthdays is just one of the ways that I like to show them how special they are to me.

Last year, after my son Evan’s 3rd birthday party, I was overwhelmed by—and not sure what to do with—the number of gifts he got, just like Stefanie Moore wrote in her Triad Moms on Main blog entry on “No Gift” Birthday parties. Around the same time, my family began volunteering with a great local organization, Foster Friends of North Carolina.

Through Foster Friends, we learned that many kids in foster care are forgotten on their birthdays, in part because the Department of Social Services doesn’t provide funds to pay for birthday parties or gifts. In addition, these kids are separated from their biological families, and the experiences that led them into foster care often involve some form of loss, trauma, or maltreatment. I’ve heard from social workers that having their birthdays forgotten is especially difficult, given the level of challenges and losses these children have experienced already.

Some foster families and placements do celebrate their foster children on their birthdays. Others would do more if they had the resources to do so. And, unfortunately, some of these placements simply don’t do anything for the kids in their care. For example, we learned from Foster Friends about a girl in a foster home who nobody said “Happy Birthday” to until one of her schoolteachers did so midday.

Through more conversations with Foster Friends, we decided it was time to take action and spread some of the joy of birthdays to kids in foster care. We were honored, and a bit embarrassed, when the folks at Foster Friends shared with us that they were naming the program after our family. But, that was the birth of “Evan’s Wish”, and we’re so excited now to see the program come to life.

Through the Evan’s Wish Birthday Program, children in foster care in the Piedmont Triad will be eligible to receive one of two “Birthday Wish” packages that will provide them with either the supplies for a birthday party or with a personalized recognition package.

We hope that local families will consider ways to spread some of the joy of their own kids’ birthday celebrations to kids in foster care through the Evan’s Wish Birthday Program. There are several ways your child can share his or her birthday celebration with local children in foster care through this program. Some of the ideas for doing so include the following:

Reuse party supplies. If you have extra party supplies left over after your child’s birthday party (either unused or in good enough shape to be used again), donate them to the program. This can include such things as gift bags, decorations, and extra tableware. This is an environmentally-friendly way to reuse items that you may otherwise not ever use again.

Donate new party supplies. While you are shopping for birthday party supplies, purchase an extra set of items such as invitations, plates and napkins, and decorations. These items can be donated to the program.

Do a family volunteer project. Make part of your family’s birthday celebration traditions a volunteer opportunity related to the Evan’s Wish Birthday Program. For example, you could come to the Foster Friends office and spend some time putting together Birthday Wish Packages, or you could do a family craft to make handmade birthday cards for children in foster care.

Request donations instead of birthday gifts. Consider requesting that guests at your child’s birthday party bring a donation to the Evan’s Wish Birthday Program in lieu of gifts. For example, the organization “Birthdays Without Pressure” recommends that parents interested in this type of request write: “Gifts are by no means necessary, but that any gifts will be gratefully received on behalf of” Foster Friends of North Carolina. You can provide a link to the Evan’s Wish Birthday Program web-site on the invitation so your guests can learn more about the program.

Donate extra gifts. If your child receives more birthday gifts than you know what to do with, or some of the gifts she or he receives are not in line with your child’s interests or developmental stage, consider donating any excess gifts to the Birthday Wish Warehouse. This is a great way to “re-gift” items that you will not use.

Foster Friends is gearing up to start offering Birthday Wish Packages this summer. Thank you for considering ways that you might help support this program!