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29 People and One Simple Request: #BirthdayGiveback2023

When The Smile Project turned 10 on November 9, 2021, we were in the midst of a (pre-vaccines) pandemic. I was dogsitting for family friends and I made a birthday cake for myself to celebrate. Yellow frosting. Black eyes and a smile. I posted word clouds for each past year of “Happiness is.” And I shared all of this on our social media accounts and blog.


What happened behind the scenes, though, was much deeper reflection. I was preparing to leave an unhealthy relationship, move back to New York City, and figure out a lot of what I wanted “the future” to look like. In this time of great personal transition, I also found myself thinking about what change and growth would look like for The Smile Project.


I became hooked on the question of what the next ten years could be.


It’s been over a year and a half since then and after many mornings of reflection and afternoons of hurried brainstorms, the main thing that has come up time and time again is not wanting to do it alone. I truly believe some of our greatest moments as an organization and social movement have been the result of collaborating with others who challenge ideas, dream boldly, and act decisively.


About a month ago, my partner turned to me and inquired about my plan for my Birthday Giveback—my yearly ritual of using my birthday for good. In the past, we’ve mobilized the Smile Project community and helped local artist fundraise for a music production project; hosted rock painting parties; encouraged safe, social distance kindness activities; spread kindness around the globe; spent 24 hours straight volunteering; and treated over 22 people to birthday freebies. It’s a really special tradition.


I sheepishly admitted that I hadn’t given it much thought. And then I looked at my to-do list. Each week for the past year and a half, I’ve written BIG SMILE GOALS in my planner. And each Sunday night, I’ve crossed it off and carried it to the next week. It’s my constant back burner. But then, sometimes, I’ll have a looming deadline, an opportunity, an idea. And I’ll talk to members of our community. And I’ll bounce ideas with my friends. And I’ll feel like, for a moment, anything is possible.


So what does this all mean? How does it tie into a #BirthdayGiveback and how does it involve YOU?


Well, the simple statement is: I want your help.


I want to talk to (at least) 29 members of our community (because turning 29, of course). I want your support and guidance and ideas. This organization has been carried by so many people over the past 12 years and in order to move to the next level, we need you. YOU have some unique skill set that would support our mission and work. YOU have an idea in your head that maybe needs a little talking through. YOU are an incredible writer—have you ever considered a guest post for us?


My hope for this year’s Birthday Giveback is to spend the next 29(+) days connecting deeply with (at least) 29 members of our community. Maybe you want to help us come up with a merchandise plan or you have ideas for how we can grow our social media presence. Maybe you want to support the website redesign or you have connections to a literary agent or publishing house to support our work getting in the hands of more people. Maybe you want to bring The Smile Project to your school or you want to start a SPARK chapter. Heck, maybe you want to help revamp the SPARK curriculum by age level. Maybe you want to write grants or support board development or just be a sounding board for something you think would be really cool.


There is so much talent in our community and we recognize that. So we’re asking for your help. It can be a one time 30 minute conversation. It can be a long term volunteering role. But whatever it is, we want to be in it with you. Thank you for your support and thank you for helping us make the next 10 years even more kind, loving, and impactful. Contact us to get started.



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