For most children, closing their eyes, making a wish and blowing out the candles is an annual birthday tradition. But some kids in foster care, many of whom have bounced around to different foster families, never get the candles and cake experience.
Seventeen-year-old Lizzie Allison is trying to change that experience for foster youth across the country.
Ever since she played the lead role in “Annie” when she was 8, Allison said she has had an affinity for helping children who didn’t have a family to call their own.
At just 15, she wanted to do something to help kids in foster care, but she found it difficult to find some way to give back at her age – most of the organizations she wanted to volunteer with had an age limit of 21.
During her search for ways to give back, she also learned how few kids in foster care have ever had a birthday party or even celebrated their birthday.
Birthdays were something that Allison said she felt all kids could relate to. What better way to celebrate a youth in care’s birthday than bring the party to them? What better way to get young people involved, than to allow them to help another youth?
“I wanted to make a service project that kids could do,” Allison said. “We empower youth volunteers to create birthday boxes for youth in foster care.”
Team Celebrate was born to get young people involved in helping youth in foster care experience their very own birthday party with the help of a birthday in a box delivered to their door.
The process is pretty simple: Youth who want to help set up a fundraiser on the Team Celebrate website. Once they’ve raised $100 – enough for four birthday boxes – they’re sent boxes and Target gift cards so they can shop for goodies to fill them. Team Celebrate provides a few suggestions like party supplies for up to eight people and then the youth decorate and fill the boxes with fun birthday surprises. After that’s complete, they connect with their local county foster care agency.
“I spent 12-and-half years in foster care and I think the fact that kids like me who receive a box and know there are people out there who care about them is making a huge difference and changing their self-esteem and self-perception,” said one former foster youth to the Team Celebrate leaders. “They won’t have to go the rest of their lives thinking no one cares for them.”
Since launching the program, more than 600 boxes have been delivered to youth in care and more than 3,000 youth have volunteered.
For the first year, Allison’s team provided birthdays in a box for youth in the Sacramento area. But after Allison and Team Celebrate were featured in Scholastic’s Choices magazine, she was overwhelmed with responses from youth all over the country wanting to help.
Looking to take her organization nationwide, Allison reached out to another Sacramento nonprofit, Ticket to Dream, to partner. For more than 10 years, Ticket to Dream has focused on helping youth in foster care experience a normal childhood through a variety of programs. Allison’s Team Celebrate fit well with the organization’s mission to provide kids in foster care with everyday experiences.
“Birthdays are a big deal,” said Gina Davis, president of Ticket to Dream. “As a national platform, we could help her grow that reach. We’ll be able to rally a lot of kids and spread this program from California to across the country.”
In the new year, Allison is hoping to provide birthday boxes to more than 4,000 kids nationally with the help she’ll be getting help from Ticket to Dream. And she’s excited to empower other kids to make a difference.
“We want our birthday boxes to be the spark for youth,” Allison said. “I love empowering kids to make a huge difference.”