In elementary school, one of my friends had a birthday party. In lieu of gifts, my friend asked that we bring donations for the local humane society. I thought it was brilliant and did the same for my birthday eight months later. As an adult, I’ve carried this tradition forward and have spent all of my recent birthdays doing a #BirthdayGiveback project of some kind.
The idea is simple: birthdays are for giving. I loved the idea of taking a day that was all about you and turning it into an opportunity to serve others. Over the years, I’ve been really fortunate to organize and host many #BirthdayGiveback projects. There was the year I turned 24 and spent 24 straight hours volunteering in New York City. Or the year I turned 26 at the start of the pandemic and gave people a list of 26 things they could do to make the world a better place without leaving their bubble.
This year, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to put out into the world. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. The thinking part, that is. Thinking about what I want The Smile Project to do. What I want The Smile Project to be. Thinking about what service looks like and how to be sustainable, ethical, and just in all that we do and share. How to be a resource for good.
But that’s a lot to put into one project. And that was something I wanted to spend more time with.
It was with all these thoughts swimming in my head that I got into a conversation with a friend about a project of his. Devin Lewis and Jimmy Larkin are two queer theatre performers (and best friends) who decided to find a way to create their own art while the theatre industry was shut down during the pandemic. They were finalizing the details of their latest creative project—a music video featuring theatre performers in New York City and a remixed version of “I’m A Star” by Scott Alan—and a bit of monetary backing would go a long way.
The gears began turning in my head. What’s the best way to serve? Start with what you know. I know nonprofit work, storytelling, fundraising. And I believe so deeply in both Devin & Jimmy that it was immediately obvious that I would have my #BirthdayGiveback support them. After speaking with them and organizing things on my end, we launched a fundraising campaign for their project that brought in $2,000 in 48 hours.
I thought then about the call to action for this Smile community: do something that comes naturally to you. That is fun for you. That you enjoy working on. Find someone who needs that thing that you have. Connect with others. That’s how we move society forward in a proactive, kind, supportive, loving way.
This is going to look different for everyone. And that’s okay. Sure I could say “everyone go out and plant flowers in your neighborhood for my #BirthdayGiveback.” But I’m no gardener. That doesn’t really make sense for me.
I’d rather say, take a moment to listen to your heart beat. Pay attention to what you do when you have free time. What articles do you read first in a magazine, in the newspaper? What media do you seek out in movies or television or books? What do you and your friends talk about? When was the last time you were so engrossed in something you lost track of time? Do you remember what it feels like to be energized by effort?
You have something this world needs. So that is my ultimate ask for this year’s #BirthdayGiveback. Tap into that. Use what you have. Make a difference to someone in your community on a local, grassroots level. I can’t tell you what that is. But if you give yourself permission to sit in silence and reflect, I have a feeling you’ll get there sooner than you think.
Thanks to everyone who supported the artist campaign fund. We appreciate your support and will share additional details about the video’s release in the coming weeks.