It started when I was a little girl and 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 rather than birthday receiving. Eight months later when my own seventh birthday rolled around, I did the same thing. Birthdays have never been the same.
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 a super planned or serious endeavor, but the precedent was set: birthdays are for giving.
In 2016, for my 22nd birthday, and my first birthday in New York City, I signed up for dozens of birthday freebies (like coffee, sandwiches, and donuts) around Manhattan and then gave them out to strangers and friends—22 strangers and friends, to be exact.
In 2017, for my 23rd birthday, I decided to focus outward, on other nonprofit organizations whose mission I was passionate about. I encouraged folks to make a monetary contribution if they were able, but more than that, I wanted to share the amazing work of these groups.
In 2018, for my 24th birthday, I took on perhaps the biggest challenge yet. I spent 24 straight hours volunteering in and around New York City from midnight to midnight. From soup kitchens to park clean-ups to inspirational sticky notes in the subway, it was an exhausting and beautiful and dazzling way to spend a birthday.
In 2019, for my 25th birthday, a friend suggested I try to get 25 people in 25 cities to do one kind act for someone else. (#25Cities25Acts) We ended the day with kind acts in 39 cities across six countries and four continents.
In 2021, for my 27th birthday, we are launching #BirthdayGiveback as an official program of The Smile Project, opening the opportunity for others to experience the joy of this birthday giving. Watch our page this week for more details and visit the-smile-project.com/birthday to learn more or sign up.