Steffi Green knew she wanted to adopt. With her husband, they welcomed a biological daughter eight years ago, and fostered their son, eventually adopting him. But a thought crossed her mind a few years ago after reading an expose in the Charleston Post and Courier about kids in foster care group homes due to the lack of foster parents. Her brain began to work: When a child is in foster care, what happens on his birthday?
It turns out that birthdays are largely uneventful for a child in foster care. She might receive some necessities--socks, new school supplies, but nothing like what many of our children blessed to have intact families have come to expect. No trips to Disney World, no ear piercing trips complete with new jewelry, and often no fuss.
Enter Birthdays for All (BFA), a non-profit organization whose aim is to provide gifts for children who are in foster care. While the organization serves Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorcester (and as of August 2019, BEAUFORT!) counties, Steffi has goals to cover the entire state. BFA takes donations directly from people, taking the burden off often-stretched foster families. While there used to be a grant to cover the cost of birthday gifts, it no longer exists.
Folks may be familiar with Beaufort County’s Child Abuse Prevention Program (CAPA)’s Angel Tree. At holiday time one can take an ornament off a CAPA Christmas tree in order to provide a child’s holiday wishlist item. This is a model shared by Birthdays For All. While the original donations were financial, a PR firm suggested BFA should do it like Angel Tree. Now one can provide gifts for a specific child according to his wishlist.
Girl Scout troops, churches, and businesses gather donations, satisfying whatever wishlist items BFA provides. The Board of BFA, along with generous volunteers, will then engage in a wrapping party! Amazingly, each month BFA is able to provide all gifts for children with birthdays (the number of kids in foster care doesn’t decrease, unfortunately, thus increasing the need).
So far more than 500 kids are helped annually. When asked about what the most interesting thing to know about these children is, she replied saying, “[I get] most emotional seeing children in group homes. Sweet, adorable, normal kids. Seeing one like your nephew! You think there must be some reason [these kids are in care], but it’s not the case! There just aren’t enough foster parents! And the kids are so HAPPY when they receive their gifts. They are so thankful to have a gift they want!”
This was the fourth June celebrated by Birthdays for All, and it was the busiest yet. Steffi might occasionally recognize a name if the child is still in a group home. While most kids are in a temporary situation, placed for 90 days or less, there are those who are less fortunate. It isn’t unusual for older children to be there longer--especially if they haven’t been adopted or haven’t been placed in a foster home.
How you can get involved
Steffi gets specific wishlists from kids whose group homes email her. It’s important to know that typically, kids in foster care only get limited necessities--no Nike socks, for instance, and these aren’t kids who have come from wonderful family lives! They have been removed from their homes mostly for abuse and/or neglect, so receiving a gift from Birthdays For All might be the first time a child actually receives a wrapped gift or card.
You can certainly donate money--all money goes to actual birthday gifts (no one receives pay at all for their work with this program). That said, there is a limited amount of space to store gifts. There are specific requests for specific months. Steffi will plan about a month ahead, accepting gifts in September for October birthdays.
Kids can collect gifts to donate for their birthdays in place of collecting gifts for themselves. Most requested items include Nike hats and socks, Bath and Body Works items, putty (Dorcester, Charleston, and Berkeley counties all have intensive homes who want sensory items). BFA will create a certificate in honor of the donating child for doing good.
Steffi said, “We wish there wasn’t a need for this, but it’s really fulfilling. I see myself doing this for a long time. It is not okay for a birthday to go unnoticed.”
*Since the time of this interview, Birthdays for All has joined forces with CAPA Beaufort to provide birthday gifts for those children who are not in a group home but are in foster homes. So far there are 11 in placement, but there are plans to have 25 in homes by the end of August thanks to newly certified foster families!
Steffi Green (Founder and Executive Director) is a native Charleston resident and Charleston School of Law Graduate. Married to Ben Wong, they have two children ages 5 and 8. Steffi practiced law for a short while, deciding to stop in order to be a stay-at-home mom. While planning birthday parties for her children she wanted to give back to local children and make their birthdays more special. Steffi decided to make it easier for local parents who want to make a difference for children in foster care. With the support of Charleston County DSS, Birthdays For All was formed.