I typically wake up on May 20th, unsure of what to expect. But I know three things to be consistent: I will talk to my family and loved ones, I will eat a lot of birthday cake, and I will be blown away at the kindness of The Smile Project community.
When I first started organizing official “Birthday Givebacks” through The Smile Project, I had no idea it would grow to what it is today. The entire concept behind the “birthday giveback” stems from a childhood friend who asked that, instead of presents, her friends bring donations for the local animal shelter to her party. I truly think so much of my love for service comes from that birthday party.
The Birthday Giveback program has taken many forms over the years, like when I turned 24 and spent 24 consecutive hours volunteering in New York City or when I turned 25 and enlisted the help of the community in spreading kindness in their corners of the globe.
With the coronavirus pandemic keeping most of the country indoors - or at least socially distant - I knew we would have to take a different approach for my 26th birthday. With the help of some of my kindest friends, we compiled a list of 26 ways people could spread joy without leaving their homes and on Wednesday, May 20th, 2020, The Smile Project community delivered.
We were kind to the ones we live with - baking banana bread for our roommates and deep cleaning the kitchen for our partners.
We were kind to those we wish we could see - calling and checking in with friends and family who are quarantining alone and delivering homemade cookies to neighbors from a safe distance.
We were kind to our friends in the postal service and our health care workers and our teachers, writing or recording messages of gratitude.
We were kind to those we will never meet, painting kindness rocks to hide in our town, packaging sanitary products to pass out to those experiencing homelessness, and taping inspirational posters to our car and home windows.
We supported local businesses and shared our favorite books. We cleaned out our closets and signed up to donate blood. But perhaps my favorite way we shared joy was #26 on the list: “Tell someone you love them.”
Indirectly, I spent the entirety of my 26th birthday on the receiving end of love. Everyone who donated $26 to a COVID relief fund, everyone who wrote a thank you card to a frontline worker, everyone who went out of their way to do something kind, was living love.
After work, I spent my evening talking to loved ones and eating birthday cake. And of course, I was once again overwhelmed by the unwavering love and support this community has shown me and The Smile Project for the past eight and a half years.
In the coming weeks, we will be launching a year-round Birthday Giveback program to help others share kindness, joy, and service on their special day or in honor of a loved one. We can’t wait to share it with you.
From the bottom of my 26-year-old heart, thank you.