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A Subjective Look at Birthdays

My goodness are birthdays fun. Partially because of cake and camaraderie, but also because I have made birthdays a dedicated day of giving in my life and for that reason, they feel extra special.

It started when I was a little girl. I received an invitation to my best friend’s birthday party. The card said that in lieu of presents, she wanted donations to our local Humane Society. My mom and I went to the store and picked out blankets and dog treats and cat litter.

It was perhaps my first glimpse into the idea of birthday giving. Eight months later when my own eighth birthday rolled around, I did the same thing. Birthdays have never been the same.

When I started doing more work with The Smile Project, I recognized the opportunity to share the idea of birthday give backs even more. As I sat down to write the reflection of the 2019 event, I decided to take it an extra step, and reflect back on how far it’s come.

In 2015, for my 21st birthday, I encouraged people to do acts of kindness from a newly created Smile Project Instagram account. It wasn’t hugely successful, but the precedent was set. Birthdays would always be for giving.

My wish is for kindness. If every single person who took the time to wish for my happiness today could take an extra half hour to complete some form of kindness for someone else, that would make today the happiest of birthdays.

In 2016, for my 22nd birthday, and my first birthday in New York City, I signed up for dozens of birthday freebies around Manhattan and then gave them out to strangers and friends.

In early May, I had a coupon code for a free coffee from Krispy Kreme donuts. There is a Krispy Kreme in Penn Station which isn’t too far from the office I was commuting to at the time. I hopped off my train a bit early, intending to use my coffee coupon for a stranger.

I gave a free small coffee to a houseless man outside Penn Station on an unusually cold May morning. He was ecstatic. It was a simple act of kindness but two people’s days were made. That’s when I got to thinking. What if every time you were handed a freebie, you gave it to someone else in need? Thus the idea for #BirthdayGiveBack was born.

Two of the biggest reasons people list for not participating in charity work is a lack of time and money. As a recent college graduate living in NYC, working multiple jobs, I completely understand. That’s why I try to get creative.

I decided I would traipse through Manhattan, collecting birthday freebies and passing them out to total strangers.

In 2017, for my 23rd birthday, I decided to focus outward, on other nonprofit organizations whose mission I was passionate about. I wanted to raise money for them. Even if people were not in the position to make a donation, I wanted to share the amazing work the groups I highlighted were doing.

For my 23rd birthday, I am sharing 23 seemingly unrelated photos that I have taken at some point in my life. Each photo is representing one nonprofit organization that I am passionate about or have some special connection to. My goal is to raise $23 for each of the 23 charities. Those who donate at least $12 to a cause will receive a print of the corresponding photo and a thank you from yours truly.

I know not everyone is at a place where they can comfortably give any amount. That's okay. I still ask that you take a few moments to read through this album and learn something new about a charity you might not have heard of before. Maybe go as far as to find a way to volunteer in the future. Thank you for reading and participating.

How much impact can we make if we work together? If we use our networks for kindness? What if we create ripple effects of giving? What if our birthdays were about more than just us?

In 2018, for my 24th birthday, I took on perhaps the biggest challenge yet. I spent 24 straight hours that Sunday volunteering in and around New York City from midnight to midnight. I took Monday off work.

I had the best intentions of sleeping on Saturday to account for the chaos Sunday would bring. Around 10 that night, I looked at my co-adventurer and said, “90 minute nap, see you at 11:45?” And that’s how we prepared for the longest day.

When my alarm went off at 11:45, my first thought was, “you don’t have to do this.” For a moment I realized that nobody was forcing me to try to spend 24 hours spreading kindness. I could go back to bed and wake up at a normal hour and…. I splashed water on my face, gave my partner in crime a hug, and was ready to go.

In 2019, for my 25th birthday, a dear friend suggested I try to get 25 people in 25 cities to do 1 kind act for someone else. I ran it by another friend and trusted Smile Project advisor and was off to the races.

What happened next was an overflowing of love personified. At the end of the day, we had 39 cities represented across 6 countries and 4 continents.

There are not enough words to explain the gratitude I felt watching people share photos and videos throughout the day. I am so grateful to live in a kind world.

I write this post not just as a Memory Lane trip for myself, but to show the unique and meaningful ways you can make your special day about more than just birthday cake.

Are you interested in using your birthday for good? Let’s connect.

Love always,


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