AOA Startup Grant 2018

Birthday parties for homeless children

Fazana children's parties.jpg


Fazana Saleem-Ismail


To create a website to help organize birthday parties for homeless children.

My name is Fazana Saleem-Ismail and I have been fantasizing about implementing a project designed to bring smiles to the faces of homeless children. I am excited because the project is set to launch on May 21, 2011. What is my dream that is about to become a reality? Hosting birthday parties for homeless children.

My current primary occupation is stay-at-home mother to two children. Prior to becoming a parent, I received my B.A. in Economics from Bryn Mawr College and my Master of Public Policy from Georgetown University with a dual focus on Family and Children's Issues and Food and Nutrition Policy. I have worked as a social science researcher for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC, Mathematica Policy Research in Princeton, NJ and the Institute for Health Policy in Colombo, Sri Lanka. However, my work at the Robin Hood Foundation in New York City for four years planted the seeds for my need to assist homeless children in some unique yet meaningful way.

Robin Hood's mission is to end poverty in New York City and it was one of the pioneers in giving organizations not only monetary grants but also a great deal of technical assistance. I was a Senior Program Officer who was responsible for evaluating grant proposals and making recommendations regarding funding; monitoring and evaluating grants; and providing technical assistance to "survival" programs which included housing organizations, domestic violence shelters, food pantries and soup kitchens that served low-income New Yorkers. I strongly believe that lifting low-income individuals and families out of poverty and giving them the tools/assistance they need to remain above the poverty line should be among the primary goals of social-service organizations.

However, I also believe that allowing children (particularly those who have been exposed to much more hardship than most of us can begin to imagine) to experience some of the simple joys of childhood is important. Giving a child a birthday party may not be poverty-fighting, but it is smile-producing! Most of the children in our lives are fortunate enough to be shielded from the harsh realities of the world. Even if they are exposed to them, it is likely to be in a second-hand fashion. The children I hope to reach are those who know first-hand what it is like not to have a roof over their heads and possibly had their parents struggle to figure out the source of their next meals. Celebrating their birthdays with cake, decorations, games, presents and goody bags will help them feel less like "homeless kids" and more like "regular kids", if only for a few hours.

A description of your proposed project:
I want to host personalized birthday parties for children living in homeless shelters. I have always loved throwing parties for family and friends--from surprise birthday parties to bachelorette parties to baby showers. After I gave birth to my daughter six and a half years ago, I added children's birthday parties to my repertoire. I have derived great pleasure in putting together theme parties (often on a shoestring budget) for my little girl as well as a first birthday party for my 20-month-old son. The joy in my little girl's eyes evident during each party is something I wanted to replicate in the eyes of children whose lives are in a state of flux. There is a lot of focus on homeless children during the holidays in December but a birthday is a very special day for any child because it is his/her day to shine.

I am starting my project by partnering with St. Catherine's Center for Children here in the Capital District, which runs both a transitional shelter for homeless families and a residential program for children temporarily removed from their families. I hope to add other organizations to the list (such as Joseph's House in Troy and St. Paul's Center in Rensselaer) once the project gains momentum. For now, I plan to do the following at the family shelter run by St. Catherine's:
1) Host age-appropriate theme-parties once a month on Saturdays for children who have birthdays in that particular month.
2) Provide birthday children with 3-4 gifts in addition to books and/or clothes.
3) Provide pizza and cake along with party games and/or arts and crafts activities.
4) Distribute goody bags to party attendees (i.e., other homeless children living in the shelter who are not celebrating their birthday).
5) Provide a photo album to each birthday child containing pictures taken during his/her party so they will have lasting memories of the event.
6) Obtain as many donated goods as possible by reaching out to local businesses.
7) Obtain monetary donations from individuals and organizations.

What's next:
How would this funding help you grow your idea and help you move it into the next phase? This is important. The funding isn't for finishing a project -- it's for helping it move on to something bigger or better.

Winning the $1,500 Sunmark Startup Grant will provide me with the funds I greatly need to hire a web designer to create a website for my project. A website is critical to the success of the project and its ability to grow. At present, I am recruiting volunteers and soliciting donations of funds and products via email, phone and personal visits. Although doing so is extremely time-consuming, it is feasible because I am only working with one shelter at this time. Having a well-designed website is an absolute necessity before I can even think of expanding to additional organizations and hosting birthday parties at multiple shelters.

Having a website designed and built is critical for me to move my project to the next phase. Obviously a website is a great marketing tool for any project; however, it will be a great fundraising tool for this project as well. For example, I can begin to post the dates and locations of parties along with the specific donation needs for each individual party. Individuals or groups interested in sponsoring a party or in volunteering or donating select items such as gifts, decorations, goody bags, etc. could sign up to do so very easily and efficiently. A website would also enable people who support the mission of the project from all across the country (and even the world!) to contribute to it as well. With a high-quality website, an individual would merely have to look at the details posted about an upcoming party to determine what is needed, and then purchase the necessary items and have them shipped to Albany. A website would allow donors to contribute as often as they wish and to select items that fall within their budget at any given time. Finally, a website can be linked to other sites such as or, which would raise awareness about the project and likely attract more people to it.

On the following page is an example of information that would appear on a section of the website pertaining to party donation and volunteer needs. When a potential volunteer clicks on one of the underlined volunteer buttons, he/she will be directed to fill out an online volunteer application form which will provide further details about the volunteer commitment. When a donor clicks on one or more of the underlined "donate" buttons, he/she will fill out a form indicating what items are being donated and whether they will be shipped to the location or delivered there by the donor. The form will contain additional instructions for the donor such as the following: "If you are purchasing a gift that requires batteries, please ensure that you include batteries with your gift."

Example of a page on proposed website providing details about an upcoming party:
Saturday, 5/21/2011
Birthday party for two 3-year-old girls (one likes Dora and the other likes Disney Princesses)
Both girls wear size 4T clothes.
Number of attendees: 20
Location of party: Marrilac Family Shelter, Guilderland, NY
Time of party: 2pm to 4pm
Volunteer Volunteer
Volunteer Volunteer
Volunteer Volunteer
Balloons Donate balloons
Decorations Donate decorations
Gifts for one 3-year-old girl Donate 3-4 gifts for a 3-year-old girl
Gifts for one 3-year-old girl Donate 3-4 gifts for a 3-year-old girl
Goody bags Donate goody bags
Tablecloth Donate tablecloth
Paper plates and plastic utensils Donate paper plates and plastic utensils
Craft Donate craft

As is clear, the versatility offered by the website I envision will enable me to move my project to the next level. As a member of a one-income family, I simply do not have the funds to invest in the creation of my ideal website although I am deeply committed to this project. Winning the Sunmark Startup Grant will enable me to create this website, attract more volunteers and donors, and increase the number of homeless children whom I can make kings and queens for a day.

Fazana children's parties.jpg

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