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In January, Children’s Birthday Miracles was just a seedling in high school junior Sheliza Kassam’s mind. Five months later, it’s a thriving charitable organization that hosts monthly birthday parties at Calgary’s Inn from the Cold. From pinatas to face painters to magicians to clowns, these heartfelt soirees are designed to help the Inn feel more like a home for the homeless families that take shelter there—and Sheliza is behind the scenes making it all happen. Check out our Q&A with this compassionate community leader and “birthday girl” extraordinaire:
What was your inspiration for starting Children’s Birthday Miracles?
Sheliza: The inspiration came three years ago at my birthday party, when I had an allergic reaction to peanuts on the cake—I’d say it was destiny! After that situation, I was tired of having a birthday party and thought maybe I wasn’t meant to have one. I decided the next year I would give back. Instead of having one, I used that money toward a breakfast for Inn from the Cold served to homeless families. For my 16th birthday, I wanted to do something inspiring and got the idea to start hosting birthday parties on a monthly basis for children at the Inn.
Tell us more about Inn from the Cold and how the parties work.
Sheliza: It’s one of the largest homeless shelters for families. That’s why it’s unique—all dedicated to families, building relationships. When we have birthday parties, it’s all of these less fortunate families together interacting with one another and it’s almost like huge family. Basically, for any child that has a birthday that month, we have a birthday cake, a clown, a magician and lots of decorations.
The success of Children’s Birthday Miracles inspired your aunt to start another similar organization across the world—that’s so cool.
Sheliza: Yes, my aunt started a charitable organization in Africa and it’s happening at The Mother Theresa Home in Dar es Salaam. She found out about what we were doing through our Facebook page, and she contacted a nearby orphanage for less fortunate children [to get a similar program started].
Amazing! In what other ways has social media and technology enhanced your efforts?
Sheliza: For me, the biggest thing about starting Children’s Birthday Miracles is spreading the message across. The inspiration, the people, how grateful they are—it’s really important for other people to see the impact it has created in the city and even in Africa. I created Instagram and Twitter accounts, as well as a website, because I believe it’s crucial to getting volunteers involved and showing donors that their money is being used for good. That’s essentially why I really thought social media could play a vital role in this organization. We’ve also enlisted social networking ambassadors—it’s really important to engage youth who aren’t necessarily volunteering in their city.
In the future, I would love to use online fundraising resources—right now, we only use mail in order to get money. Recently, I met the founder of McDonalds Canada and he’s sending in a check!
How do you spend the bulk of your time on Children’s Birthday Miracles?
Sheliza: It honestly depends—sometimes we get 10 emails a week and you have to make a phone call to each person that wants to sponsor. Phone calls can be lengthy because they want to know where money is going. We also have CBM boxes around the city of Calgary, where people drop off things like presents or party hats, so I also spend time picking up those boxes of donations from each different location.
Children’s Birthday Miracles has grown by leaps and bounds in just five short months! How did you grow so quickly?
Sheliza: I think the reason it blossomed so quickly was because I was involved with various organizations before, and I used those connections and networking skills to help me in the long run. For anyone who has a great idea, talk to an organization doing a similar thing or has a target market you’re aiming for. I knew I couldn’t start from scratch and have less fortunate people come to me, so I approached a homeless shelter and said, “Hey, I have this idea—what do you think?” You make a relationship with the organization and from there you can make progress. Give them the perception that they can make a difference and you can start today.
How can Like a Boss girls get involved?
Sheliza: Any youth who want to start a Children’s Birthday Miracles in their city should contact me. We have a lot of funds here in Calgary, and I would be happy to help fund and support it. We want to get it out there as much as possible and guide it in the right direction to make a difference. If you’re interested in learning more, please email me or visit our Facebook page.
Learn more about Sheliza and her community work in this Volunteer Calgary video!