Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are back in session, and an estimated 2,500 of its enrolled students are homeless. While many of us are fortunate enough to have a place to call home and the money for school supplies, many parents can't provide their children with the most basic of necessities.
Local nonprofit Birthday Blessings reached out to 125 of those children this month during four back-to-school birthday parties at local homeless shelters, including United Family Services' Shelter for Battered Women on Aug. 6. Besides celebrating two birthdays, each of the 23 children in attendance were given backpacks filled with school supplies so they would be prepared for their first day of school.
Mad Science entertained the children with indoor fireworks and hands-on science experiments. Dream Dinners in Waxhaw provided dinner for the group.
Kelly Forney, co-director of United Family Services domestic violence service area, said: “The parents were just overwhelmed really and so appreciative and thankful. A lot of them were relieved. They were probably wondering how they were going to get these kids started with the school year right.”
Amy Cervantes, one of the founders of Birthday Blessings, said: “Probably 90 percent of these families we encounter are the working poor who just had some setbacks. There's a big misconception that they don't want to help themselves or they're lazy. They really are working to get past those issues. It's unfortunate that there's a stigma attached to being homeless.”
Cervantes and her husband, John, started hosting birthday parties for homeless children at The Salvation Army Center of Hope in 2005 as a way to teach their son Alex, then 3, a lesson in giving. The family service project grew exponentially since then, enlisting countless volunteers and sponsors.
Year round, Birthday Blessings hosts one birthday party per month for all the birthday children at each of the four shelters they serve, in addition to providing 10 to 15 classroom birthday parties to homeless students in more than 20 area schools.