Although we believe birthdays are a big deal, we do not have a yearly friend party. We save those for the “landmark birthdays” – one, five, ten, thirteen, sixteen, and eighteen. As we approached our daughter’s tenth birthday, we intentionally started to talk about how ten was an opportunity to reflect on the type of person she wants to be and emulate that in a party.
As we neared her birthday, we asked her about what she really wanted. Looking around, she realized there wasn’t a lot she couldn’t live without, nor much space left in her room. When she heard about a “give-back birthday”, she was hesitant. She didn’t know how to do it and thought her friends would think it was weird. Naturally, that led to the conversation of those who are truly her friend on a deep level would like this idea and it was okay if not everyone liked it. She decided to allow her fear to take a back seat and dedicate her birthday to numerous organizations.
If your child decides he/she wants to have a give-back birthday party, below are some ideas we came up with that helped make this actually happen (and a few fails!).
Instead of bringing a gift, each friend brought a part of what we needed to do the giveback. This allowed a variety of items and more stations, not to mention the “buy-in” factor for the kids. We actually told the parents if a present was brought, it would be donated to a charity. A few friends brought their part in a gift bag, which still helped with the feel of a celebration but honored the spirit of the party.
Sign Up Genius
To save money on invites and also remind parents of what they are bringing, sign up genius is gold. I divided up what was needed for each station and put the parts on the sign-up genius. For example, clean socks – 20 total, catnip, pillow stuffing, card stock. Each parent would sign up for a station. Because sign-up genius is awesome, they would get a reminder a day or two before the party on what was needed.
Pick a Theme (or Themes)
Easily, you could pick a single theme. For example, if you were doing “Project Linus” as your only theme, you could have a fleece cutting and tying party as you watched a movie and hung out. Each parent could bring pieces of fleece and you could give goodie bags at the end that link to either Peanuts or blankets.
Another cute give-back is for animal shelters. Throughout the party, the kids make cat toys, dog toys, chew toys, etc. They create coloring books of pets and as a goodie bag, “adopt” a stuffed animal cat/dog, receive an adoption certificate and name their pet. Some even take it a step further and deliver their creations at the end of the party, touring the facility.
We did a “Give Back” theme and had various stations, each with a different focus. At the end of this blog, I will post what we did and some links to get information on each station.
Focus on the Guests
Part of giving back is the intrinsic, intangible value that glows from within. By helping another, there is something internal that connects us all. It is important each guest knows it would simply be impossible without them there.
Before we started, we gathered the girls together and told them our daughter was worried no one would want to come to her party because it was different than most. Yet, they did. Although it was her birthday, each girl there should know how wonderful they were because they chose to be a part of this party. They wanted to give to others and we tried to make it clear they were golden, lovely people.
The smiles that formed on their faces and the pride from within was apparent. Because they knew they had a mission, they entered the room ready to create. Using a mini Polaroid camera, we snapped pics of each kiddo during the party for them to take home and sent all the parents pictures of their kids, the final give back and the group shot so they could continue the conversation at home.
Plan for Down Time
Because we did stations for the girls to move through, we anticipated there would be some done earlier than others. Two hours is a long time to work on single projects, so we planned to do the cupcakes at the back half of the party and have a final project of creating a string of beads reading “give back.” Some creative cats turned their beads into “give cake” or “give back cake.” Despite the humor, they still ended up with a moment to round out the afternoon chatting, eating and making their own creation to take home. Without this final project, we probably would have had about thirty minutes of boredom for some of the girls while others finished up.
This isn’t your normal birthday party; there will be a few initial moments of uneasiness. Music is so helpful with the quiet that starts a give-back party. Many of our give backs involved making letters or cards, writing and thinking… which makes for a very whispery start to a birthday party. Easy fix: a bluetooth speaker (supplied by the room we rented), one Pandora account and “Kidz Bop” radio (wasn’t looking to have Sir Mix-A-Lot coming on in the midst of the party). We turned it up a little louder than we would have otherwise and quickly silence turned to giddy, chatty girls.
Places to Have It
Having friend parties only every few years, we wanted her to invite who she wanted…which turned out to be twenty names. Twenty girls in our house gave me a bit of a panic attack, yet I did not want to limit because the more girls, the bigger impact we could have, so I reached out to a few places. Check out local municipal buildings or civic centers, parks, firehouses, police stations, shelters, and local businesses! We ended up renting out a facility at a cheaper rate due to the type of party she was having. Even hotels offered to give us a discount because of the giveback. Let places know what you are doing and they may want to do their part to help make the party possible!Lessons Learned
Probably the biggest bit of advice is to prepare the stations and have help. Project Linus is an awesome cause, but the fleece needs to be pre-cut for the girls to tie. Samples of cards or finished projects are useful if you cannot have an adult at every station. If you have stations, make sure someone knows what you are doing so they can help. Welcome parents to stay and run stations if you are having a variety. Take pictures! Post those pictures and read what the people are saying to your child. It only inspires them to want to do more.
As I mentioned, we did stations. Each of the girls liked different ones, which made for a unique take depending on the girl.
Project Linus Linus from Charlie Brown used his blanket for security and that is what Project Linus is about. You make and donate new blankets that will be delivered to one needing love, warmth, compassion, etc. For anyone in Scouts, there is a patch that can be given for Project Linus.
Confetti Foundation This foundation provides birthday boxes for kids spending their birthday in the hospital. The parents/kids are provided a birthday box with everything inside of it to decorate a room and celebrate their birthday. You make birthday cards for the Confetti Foundation to go inside of the birthday boxes. It was pretty awesome to be at a birthday party making cards for someone else’s birthday.
Happy Sock This is a really easy station that puts your lost socks to good use. Simply by making cat toys and delivering to the local shelter, not only are you giving to another but you are teaching how to re-purpose. Don’t be surprised if a guest asks if he or she can keep one of the toys for their cat.
Operation Gratitude This Organization sends letters to the troops overseas. Basically, the kids write a letter to those who are fighting to keep our country safe. The group has a page you can print out that gives letter writing ideas. A live and learn on this station would be to have a template:
Dear ___________, How are you? Here is what is going on in my world: I wanted to thank you for __________.
Meals on Wheels Lunch Bags Most of the kids have grandparents and this particular station allows you to bring home the concept of a grandma/grandpa getting this wonderful, colorful surprise with their meal. There are other areas that can be made besides the lunch bag (hot mits, place mats, etc). Just like they probably love to get a handwritten note, the recipients of Meals on Wheels would probably love to have a colorful bag with their meals instead of the plain, same old, same old.
Car Window Poetry This organization is all about spreading positive poetry in surprise notes left on cars. Individuals receiving or leaving notes can post on social media with the #carwindowpoetry. This is a very easy way to spread love immediately after the party and get the family involved. Many of the girls had read Wonder and we bought a book of Wonder quotes for them to use for inspiration.
Ronald McDonald House Grab and Go Bags The parents staying at the Ronald McDonald House often are in a rush to get to their kids in the hospital. These Grab and Go bags allow the parents to do just that – grab and go. You can make 25 at one time and drop them off anytime between 9 am – 9 pm. Drop off in Cincinnati was quite simple – just show up, drop off, and go. You could take this one even further by arranging a time to tour the facility.
Locker Love – We made this one up but hope it will bring happiness to those receiving it. We used the hashtag #lockerlove and created small notes to be copied and hung on various lockers in a school. The notes will be given to the principal to pass on to either the student government association or the staff to hang on all the lockers. With all the scary news these days, we figured a little locker love would be a nice surprise at the start of the day.
If you decide to do a Give-Back Party, my biggest advice would be DO NOT STRESS. The entire concept is to Give-Back. It isn’t about you, but others. Keep that in mind when planning it – if the goodie bags are not amazing and the cupcakes are from Kroger (or they look like a mouse and not a cat) and if one of the projects do not turn out perfect… it is okay. The entire idea is to make giving back an experience that will keep all involved wanting to continue to give back. Make it fun. Make it meaningful. Make it impactful.
Whatever you do, make sure you let the kids know how absolutely dazzling and compassionate souls they are. People like them make this world continue to be a place of hope and kindness.
I promise you, YOU will be inspired by the hearts of the kids at this type of party. Our daughter has thanked us two or three times since for the birthday party… the one in which she received not a single tangible item.