During these extraordinary times that we all find ourselves in and the notion of lives mattering it is unfortunate that as we live our day-to-day, we know that our systems, and sometimes we ourselves, don't treat all people as if their lives mattered equally.
To matter means to be of consequence or importance to others. It means being significant, relevant, worthy of note and of crucial value. It is that foundation of celebrating life and recognizing each individual that is the cornerstone of Extra-Ordinary Birthdays where to date over 1,000 children experiencing homelessness have received personalized birthday parties that let them know they matter.
While this pandemic further reveals the disparity to the homeless community and the harm inflicted on countless generations of people and families, “You Matter,” continues to and has always been a fundamental core of EOB.
To Jayceon, a recently turned two year old who loves Toy Story 2 it matters. On the questionnaire completed by his Mom, she provided Extra-Ordinary Birthdays with all aspects about Jayceon that make him unique, special, and worthy. The simple fact that we are asking homeless parents, like Jayceon’s Mom, about what it is they want and including them in the process empowers them and tells them that they too, as parents, matter. Feedback from homeless parents suggests the challenge of being homeless is not only celebrating their child’s birthday but the disappointment and frustration as a parent in not being able to do so is hard and adds to the mountain of issues they face. Eating cake, singing Happy Birthday, playing games, opening presents are all ordinary things in a birthday party that can be taken for granted. However, when you are homeless, life is anything but ordinary.
When you hear about underprivileged children – the immediate connotation it brings up is the lack of their material needs like food and shelter. But the lack of their emotional needs, which results in insecurity, poor self-image and low self-esteem – is no less important in its influence on their chances for healthy development into positive adults.
For a child like Jayceon, his birthday was a great opportunity to give that self esteem and self-worth. It was not just a party, it was:
• Being a part of giving Jayceon (and his Mom) specifically what they wanted for his second birthday in terms of themes, cake, food, and gift which tell them they deserve it.
• Providing age appropriate birthday activities for Jayceon to explore, create and for he and his Mom, to engage as a family unit
• Providing personalized décor throughout his celebration from the cake, banners, centerpieces and his t-shirt reinforcing his individuality
• Encouraging Jayceon’s self-expression through imaginary role playing by dressing up.
• Providing healthy snacks for Jayceon and his family for a diet determined by shelter kitchens.
• Providing Jayceon with books as gifts that may trigger his future goals and aspirations
Through our underlying “You Matter” message, two year old Jayceon had a personalized birthday experience where he received all of the individual attention that made his birthday one of the most important moments for building his self-esteem. Jayceon received the honest impression that he was precious. This is the feeling that raises a child’s self-esteem.
Before, during and after COVID and this time of social injustice, Extra-Ordinary Birthdays is and will be there for the community we recognize and celebrate (that is primarily African American and Hispanic-Latinx). We are all in this together and that our combined efforts are working toward easing the devastating effects of this crisis that includes homelessness. For Extra-Ordinary Birthdays it is wrapped in the form of a personalized birthday that builds hope, engages families, and inspires them to move beyond their circumstances. This is our success story—each and every month.