Reaching Out: Rolanda Robinson of It’s Your Birthday Inc.
it’s your birthday inc.: To create fun and memorable birthday experiences for children ages 5 through 12 who live in domestic violence or award winner homeless shelters.
Q| When did you start this organization?
A| It officially launched in September 2014.
Q| What made you interested in this particular cause?
A| I was volunteering several years ago with Our Fathers House, feeding the homeless at the Emmanuel House shelter. I noticed all these kids running around and asked the executive director what he did for them on their birthdays. I have always been very fortunate to have great birthdays and I still celebrate like crazy! He said they didn’t have the funding or the resources to do anything, so I started throwing parties once a month at the shelter for kids who had a birthday that month. The shelter closed several years ago. Fast forward to last year, when I was trying to figure out a way to give back to the community. I remembered those parties and how the kids were so excited to have a couple hours where they could forget about where they were living. They would always run out to my car and scream, “The birthday lady is here!” I decided to try doing the same thing and started with a pilot to see if it would work. It was successful, so I filed for the 501(c)3 designation and got my official name.
Q| What kind of volunteer work are you involved with?
A| Currently, we are in nine shelters, domestic and homeless, and 11 schools. We do three different types of parties. The first is hosting a party at a shelter, usually once a month, for about an hour. We have volunteers who offer to perform, like a great guy who makes amazing balloon creations. Or we’ll do a game or activity. I’m very conscious about anything we make because of the kids’ living conditions, so we might decorate pillowcases or a picture frame. And we always have goodie bags and cake and ice cream! Second, we do ‘birthday in a box’ for those shelters worried about confidentiality. I send program managers a checklist asking what items they want in the box so families can host a more private event. We fill boxes with decorations and a gift card to get cake and drinks. The third option is a classroom party at the child’s school. We ask school districts to give us a list of kids living in shelters, and we drop off cupcakes for them to bring to class on their birthday. And Maxine Clark of Build-A-Bear donates a bear to every birthday child. Oftentimes the moms really want to do something but just can’t. They are in survival mode, and I want to take this burden off of them. The first few parties, I think I cried more than the moms!
Q| If you could do anything for the organization, what would it be?
A| More funding and donations. I’m a one-woman show and everything is based on private donations. A few companies have given me grants, businesses donate items, and I’ve had friends host party drives where guests bring items from the party wish list on the website. Nothing is too expensive and, except for the cake, it all can be found at the dollar store! I want to be able to give parties without worrying about how I’ll pay for everything. I recently lost my job, but the organization keeps growing. I just got calls from another school district and more shelters asking me to help. The word is out, and I’m not going to say no. I do have volunteers at the parties who help decorate, clean up and play with the kids, but I do everything behind the scenes. I’m exhausted and don’t know when I’ll sleep again, but I’m having so much fun!
In the Words of volunteer Angela Rhone: “Hosting a birthday celebration for your child during a very difficult time in life is almost impossible to think of for many parents. A celebration sponsored by It’s Your Birthday makes this task easier. There is no better reason to smile than for your own birthday, and thanks to Rolanda, children in shelters across St. Louis are smiling again. The impact of this service on our community has been great!”
It’s Your Birthday Inc. applauds its sponsors for their involvement.
Photo: Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton
Strauss Peyton is a proud sponsor of the T&S Reaching Out Awards.