Its only comes around once a year, and is gone again in a Long awaited, often celebrated candles, gifts and good times, a birthday is a day to remember. Friends and family gather to celebrate life and share memories on the one day a year most people set aside for themselves, the star of the show.

It’s somewhat of a custom for many people that no one should pay for anything on their birthday when out with friends, and usually sought after items are delivered wrapped in bows and boxes. However not everyone experiences this generosity on their birthday. For whatever reason, be it the time of the year or the lack of means, some folks’ birthdays go forgotten and celebrations forgone.

For a child this can be a devastating blow, leaving them heart broken and forlorn. Though a birthday shouldn’t be about the receiving of gifts, for many young children the gift of love and appreciation, and the gathering of family may be a little out of their grasp. They see friends, neighbors and schoolmates alike receiving gifts and having parties, and wonder why they don’t get the same on their big day.

On a personal note, I can remember one infamous birthday where nobody bothered to show up for my party. My family had rented out the equivalent of Kangaroo Jake’s and sent out invitations to my whole first grade class. I was so excited I could barely contain it, I couldn’t wait for the big day – it was all I would talk about. When the party finally rolled around we showed up early, got set up and waited for my classmates to start arriving. Much to my dismay, not a soul darkened the door that day. I was devastated.

Anyone who has experienced anything like this will cringe at the memory of their own neglected birthdays and immediately understand why Brighter Birthdays is partnering with the local school systems to help bring the joy of a birthday to underprivileged children across Rome and Floyd County.

Christin Warden, a local financial coach and the mother of two girls, is working hard to see that as many children as possible will never have to experience the heartbreak of a forgotten birthday again. It started in 2015 when she was searching for community service opportunities for her daughters.

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After considering angel trees among other projects, she happened upon a program called Brighter Day. Brighter Day, in connection with Laureen Gilbert and Rome Action Ministries, works to help bring meal bags to children in the county school system. Taking inspiration and guidance from Brighter Day, Warden and several other homeschool families in the area started what is now known as Brighter Birthdays.

The statistics on homelessness and poverty Warden uncovered are startling to say the least. “It was extremely eye-opening to learn of the need in our local school systems. When I learned just how many of the students locally require assistance for their daily needs I knew that we needed to do whatever we could to help make their birthdays special,” says Warden. 46 percent of city and 33 percent of county schools students receive government assistance, are homeless or are in the foster system. A shocking 68 percent of county students qualify for free or reduced lunches, and more than 200 county students are homeless. With numbers like these it’s not hard to imagine the need for a program like Brighter Birthdays.

Last year alone 250 birthday bags were delivered to appreciative students, containing a variety of items from toiletries and school supplies to toys, candy and party supplies. This year Brighter Birthdays is aiming high hoping to donate at least 1000 bags according to their webpage, BrighterBirthdays.org. After their early efforts gained the attention of local systems, one city school district joined with the organization to provide 500 bags, enough for the whole school, and more schools have been requesting birthday bags for their own underprivileged students.

Brighter Birthdays stepped up from a volunteer organization to a 501(c)(3) non-profit in the spring of 2016, and are branching out in an attempt to fill the needs of all the schools who are requesting bags for their students, but the numbers are overwhelming. Currently employing two teams of “baggers” to fill the need, they are relying on word of mouth to secure the donations they need to continue their heartwarming work. Despite generous donations from local businesses, professionals and organizations like the Rome Braves, the need is growing faster than the funds can keep up. “We are so grateful for those that help us either by donating items or through financial donations. These donations will help over 1,000 children in our community celebrate their birthdays this school year alone! We have companies that donate larger quantities of items to put into the bags. The dentists and orthodontists in town have been extremely supportive giving us toothpaste and toothbrushes. We even have private citizens and churches that donate party items and school supplies on a regular basis or do drives for us. We survive on these donations even if they are small quantities,” Warden explains.

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The best way put birthdays in bags, and bags in happy hands is to get involved with Brighter Birthdays through cash or item donations or volunteering to help out yourself. “We are always looking for party supplies like plates and napkins. We can always use school supplies like pencils and pens. Right now we could use donations of both of these to finish out the year. We ask that they not be girl or boy specific and be appropriate for elementary students. We are trying to make a difference in these children’s lives by honoring and celebrating them on their birthday. It is an extremely rewarding project that brings smiles to the faces of children whose families struggle daily,” says Warden.

There is a donation link on both The Brighter Birthdays Facebook page as well as the website, along with contact information for the organization. If you are interested in becoming a part of the Brighter Birthdays team, or just want more information on needed items you can also email info@brighterbirthdays.org. All donations are greatly appreciated, and are going to help a great cause.

With the help of Warden and Brighter Birthdays, the local schools have finally found a way to bring a smile to the children who would otherwise go without on their special day. Every child deserves to have a birthday filled with joy and happiness, and you can be a part of it as well. So this year, take a moment to give something back to your community and give or get involved.

After all, a smile is one of the best things you can give, and these children are guaranteed to be beaming when they get the surprise they never thought they would see.