Many of the kids in our emergency shelter don’t seem to react when their birthday is coming. For some of them, I know that no one has ever taken the time to celebrate their birthday and make them feel special. For others, their lack of reaction is a way to protect themselves from disappointment.
I think I will remember celebrating Darren’s birthday at CEDARS, more than any other youth we have served. Darren came to CEDARS at the age of 12. His mother struggled with a drug addiction and his father had never been a part of his life. His older brother, Michael, had practically raised Darren.
The youth and staff in our emergency shelter wanted to do something special for Darren’s 13th birthday. So, one of the staff took him on an errand while the other kids decorated with streamers and balloons. The youth had baked and decorated a cake for Darren earlier in the day. They put a large poster on his bedroom door that read “HAPPY BIRTHDAY.” We also made sure he had a few presents to open when he returned.
The kids shut off all of the lights and surprised Darren when he came home. I will never forget his smile. It stretched from ear to ear, and we could tell that our efforts made him feel really special.
Youth stay with us because they have nowhere else to go. We are able to tell them “you matter” with things as simple as cakes and birthday signs. Your support allows us to make every birthday more than just an ordinary day.
Jana Hoppe serves as Assistant Program Manager for CEDARS Emergency Shelter. She shared this story for our special edition of the Little Voice Newsletter.