Birthday Wishes was founded in November 2002 by Lisa Vasiloff, Karen Yahara, and Carol Zwanger – three friends and colleagues who wanted to help homeless children build self-esteem. Having volunteered in several homeless shelters, it occurred to the trio - as they attended one of their own children’s birthday parties - that at the shelters, children’s birthdays often came and went uncelebrated. Their subsequent research indicated that no organizations existed exclusively to provide birthday parties to children living in homeless shelters. After speaking with local shelters and state advocacy groups, they found that most homeless shelters do not have the personnel or resources necessary to hold birthday parties for the children who stay there. Furthermore, the parent (usually a mom) is often unable, both economically and emotionally, to organize a party for her child. Some parents, embarrassed that they don’t have money for cakes and presents, don’t even tell their children that they have a birthday. For homeless children, birthday parties are a luxury that neither the parent nor the shelter can afford.
Yet a birthday is an important event in the life of a child, and Birthday Wishes was founded on the belief that every child, regardless of their living situation, should have their birthday recognized and celebrated. Birthday Wishes has found that something as simple and ‘normal’ as a birthday party has the power to make these children feel both special, and, perhaps more important, like a “regular kid”.