For many children, birthdays represent perhaps the most important day of their year – an occasion where family and friends gather to form memories that will last a lifetime, a day solely dedicated to celebrating them.
However, there are many children who miss out on such opportunities due to external circumstances. In 2013, Celebrate! RVA was founded to fill that need, a need that is more prevalent within the Richmond community than some may realize.
Celebrate! RVA is a Richmond nonprofit that serves the city’s disadvantaged youth by giving them the opportunity to celebrate their special day in a fun and safe environment. With the belief that the love and joy received at birthday parties can be a transformative experience, Celebrate! RVA has made its mission to provide just that – an unforgettable celebration for children who otherwise couldn’t have a party, no matter their circumstances.
Celebrate! RVA has celebrated more than 4,000 deserving children and has gained the capacity to expand services. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, shutting down life as we knew it, Celebrate! RVA did not lose sight of its goal.
Quickly adapting to not being able to host birthday parties, the organization launched a birthday bag delivery program in March 2020 – the very month all in-person events, schools and non-essential workplaces were closed down to slow the spread of the virus.
Since then, the program has distributed more than 1,000 birthday bags filled with decorations, party hat decorating activity kits, cake-making supplies and small gifts. Although vaccinations are on the rise and more in-person events are taking place, Celebrate! RVA will continue to offer birthday bag deliveries.
During the 2020-21 school year, the organization opened the doors to its new Celebrate Center as a facilitated learning center. It serves about 20 children each day, giving them an inclusive space to learn, socialize and experience joy. In November 2021, the center – unofficially named “Birthday School” – provided students a safe space when Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras gave teachers a week off to care for their mental health, while parents had to work.
Celebrate! RVA works closely with RPS, bringing their impact into classrooms across the region.
“We strongly value our partnership with Richmond Public Schools and have experienced an especially strong relationship in the past 18 months,” said Julia Warren, executive director and founder of Celebrate! RVA. “Beyond serving as a facilitated learning center for RPS students last year, we created gift and resource-filled welcome bags for every RPS teacher as they returned to the classroom for this school year.”
“Birthday School” has been in use for almost two years now, but Celebrate! RVA was finally able to host its Grand Opening event following the COVID-19 lockdown. On Friday, Dec. 3, the organization celebrated the people who made the idea for a physical location a reality, including volunteers, donors and construction staff.
The next day, it held a Holiday Open House for members of the community to experience the space. Tours of the center, opportunities to help pack birthday bags and even quality time with Santa Claus were offered during the open house.
“We want to show our community this new space – a resource for them to experience joy – and get to know us as we hope to continue our tradition of strong community partnership,” Warren said.
The support offered by individuals and businesses, including Spy Rock and DPR Construction, made opening the center a possibility without the need for a major funding campaign. Each dollar is stretched as far as possible, ensuring underserved children are given the celebration they deserve.
“Funding helps us enact our mission, turning our values of stewardship and service into experiences of joy for children through birthday bags, celebrations, and learning opportunities,” Warren said.
Photo Credit: Elle Lappan Photography for Celebrate! RVA