Amy & John Cervantes, 40 of Mint Hill, began Bright Blessing in 2005 and serves approximately 3,200 homeless children annually! They are one of our favorite charities and we have been honored to partner with them over the years. Keep reading to learn how Amy began the amazing charity and how you can help out!
Q. How did Bright Blessing begin?
A. We first started Bright Blessings in the fall of 2005 as our family service project, when Alex was 3.5 years old and Eli was a newborn. The idea came to us shortly after Elis birth and Alexs birthday, both earlier that spring. We wanted to come up with a way to actively serve in the community togetherwithout the busyness of parenthood halting our effortswhile also helping ensure that our boys would grow up with a joy and commitment to helping others.
After celebrating Alexs birthday with family and friends at a nearby park, we were talking about what a special day it had been and how happy Alex was, and we began thinking about kids who were less fortunate and wondering if they even had the opportunity to celebrate their birthdays? We suspected that homeless children probably didnt get that opportunity, a thought that left us feeling sad because we believe that birthdays are a celebration of lifea time to emphasize that your life has purpose, that you are a gift. For children who were already struggling with issues of poverty and homelessness, we couldnt imagine how much worse they might feel waking up on their birthday and knowing there would be no celebration or special attention.
With that thought in mind we decided that this might be a way for us to help in the community, a way to serve together as a family and make a difference in the lives of homeless kids. So we made a call to the Salvation Army Center of Hope women & childrens shelter and learned that there was no birthday program in place. We offered to start one, and that fall we began serving approx 50-60 kids every month at the shelter. We would decorate a large room at the shelter, bring games and activities for the kids, serve cupcakes and juice, and of course offer lots of positive recognition to the birthday childrenand all of the kids. Each birthday child received several new gifts, and all of the children were given treat-filled goody bags. Most surprising to us was when we realized that not only had the birthday kids never celebrated their special days, but most of the children at the shelter had never even been to a birthday party. It was a first time experience for almost all of them.
We continued to hold monthly birthday parties at the shelter for 2.5 years, and as the first birthday of our third son approached in 2008, we incorporate our family service venture as an official non-profit organization. At that time we began increasing our volunteer base so that we could expand to serve more homeless children at other shelters across the area.
Q. What exactly does Bright Blessings do?
A. Today, Bright Blessings has several programs that serve homeless children and families across a four-county area. The organizations two core programs, Bless-A-Birthday and Bless-A-Baby, along with its Gift of Literacy program, bring joy, care, comfort and hope to approximately 3,200 homeless children annually.
Our Bless-A-Birthday program operates in two parts: Shelter Services and Student Services. Our Shelter Services program provides birthday celebrations each month at homeless shelters, housing programs, and domestic violence shelters. Parties incorporate a variety of educational and enrichment programs as well as traditional birthday fun and games. At many of the facilities we also provide a meal for the children and their families. The birthday children receive special recognition and new gifts and books, and all of the children receive treat bags.
Our Student Services program anonymously serves transient homeless students across Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. These children are not living in the same shelters that we serve, but rather they are typically staying at motels, campgrounds, and sometimes even overnight in cars. They are frequently moving from place to place. This program provides classroom birthday treats such as cookies, juice, plates & napkins for homeless elementary students so they can celebrate their special day at school just like their classmates. Our goal is to not only bring birthday joy to these children, but to also provide them with a sense of normalcy and empower them as givers in a peer environment. Teachers and social workers frequently tell us that the children light up as they are able to walk around class and hand out treats to their classmates. Each student that we serve also receives a birthday and care package to take home at the end of the day, complete with hygiene products, a new blanket and stuffed animal, as well as a student lap desk, new books and birthday gifts.
Transient homeless middle and high school students are also served through our Student Services program. Each youth receives a Fit to Celebrate birthday backpack to take with them at the end of the school day so that they can celebrate with family members. Our goal is to not only lift spirits for these teens on their special day, but also to help them achieve positive health and fitness. The backpack is filled with party supplies, healthy snacks, fitness fun items such as a jump rope, Frisbee, and sports balls, as well as freshly made jumbo cupcakes made with all natural ingredients by Skinny Cakes, a local bakery business. Included with each pack is also a Celebrate Healthy Living pamphlet that provides tips for teens to make good health and hygiene choices despite their challenging living situations. Like elementary children, each middle and high school student also receives a Care & Comfort Bag, a student lap desk, as well as new books and birthday gifts.
Our Bless-A-Baby program brings help and hope to babies that are born into homelessness or experience homelessness within the first 18 months of life. Each Blessing Basket is tailor made and hand delivered for the child and mother who will receive it. The baskets are filled with new clothing, baby hygiene items, blankets, food, healthcare supplies, gifts, books, as well as caring for baby educational materials for the mother. This program provides hundreds of baskets to homeless babies across our community every year.
Finally, our Gift of Literacy program distributes over 5,000 new books to all of the homeless children we serve each year. Every birthday child and baby served receives two or three new books with their gift packages. We also give new books to all of the children living at the shelters we serve as an extra goody multiple times throughout the year, typically coordinating with our celebration themes such as Back-to-School, Earth Day awareness, Black History Month, and during the holiday seasons.
Q. What has the organization evolved in to over the past 5 years?
A. Bright Blessings remains a largely volunteer-run organization, though it has expanded significantly in the last 5 years as our services have grown. We are blessed by a dedicated group of volunteers who help ensure that our programs reach hundreds of homeless children every month. We have a lead volunteer team of about 30 individuals who serve as coordinators for both of our core programs, as well as a team of 15 trained weekday volunteers who help prepare gift packages and supplies for distribution and ensure that deliveries are made to local schools and shelters every week.
Q. What programs do you offer?
Gift of Literacy
Q. How many children have you helped over the years?
A. Since its inception, Bright Blessings has served over 10,000 local homeless children.
Q. What has been the most rewarding moment since Bright Blessings began?
A. There have been too many to count! One particular heartfelt memory was when a boy staying at a local shelter told me that until the night of our celebration, he had never had a room full of people sing to him on his birthday. He had just turned 16.
Q. Where has the organization spread? Can anyone help?
A. Bright Blessings currently serves homeless children and families in Mecklenburg, Union and Cabarrus counties in NC, as well as York County, SC.
Our main operations and volunteer center, The Giving Village, is located in Matthews and is a family-friendly environment where people of all ages can participate in projects that support our programs. We hold Family Service events each month, and we also offer group service events for youth groups, corporate teams, school clubs, scout troops, social/civic groups and corporate teams. Group service events are available by request/appointment on weekends or weekday afternoons and evenings. Additionally, Bright Blessings offers Purpose Parties at The Giving Village which are private, service-focused celebrations such as birthday parties or baby showers.
Q. How can the community help?
A. There are so many ways to get involved!
Participate in our Adopt-A-Party program and help assist our coordinators provide birthday celebrations at local shelters
Organize a collection drive for gifts, care & comfort items, or other program supplies (our Wish List/Greatest Needs is available on our website)
Plan a group service event at The Giving Village to sponsor and prepare birthday gift sets, Blessing Bundles, Care & Comfort Bags, snack packs and more
Organize a support project from your location such as filling treat bags, making gift tags, or decorating bookmarks
Visit the Volunteer page of our website for details on the many ways to get involved with Bright Blessings!
Q. What types of items do you collect?
A. All items must be NEW:
Gifts/toys (greatest needs right now are for tweens/teens such as footballs, watches, purses, beauty items, and hand-held games; more suggestions are listed on our website)
Hygiene items (greatest needs right now are for toothpaste; toothbrushes; small tissue packs; lip balm; washcloths)
Birthday wrapping paper
Individually wrapped cookies, single-serve size, in sets of 24 (NO PEANUT PRODUCTS)
Juice pouches such as Capri Sun or Kool Aid Jammers (NO BOXES)
Empty cardboard paper boxes or file boxes
Healthy snack items such as granola bars, cereal bars, mini raisin packs, snack-size pudding cups or applesauce cups, goldfish crackers (NO PEANUT PRODUCTS)
Solid color or birthday pattern table covers
Q. Are there any upcoming events Bright Blessings will be attending?
A. Our next community Family Service Day will be Sunday afternoon, March 24. Check out the Events page of our website for more details!
Q. If someone is in need, how can they receive help from Bright Blessings?
A. Children and families served by Bright Blessings must be referred through one of our agency partners (local shelters, housing programs, domestic violence facilities, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and A Childs Place)
You can find more info online at www.BrightBlessingsUSA.org