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March 21, 2001 1 min read
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The Birthday Maker

At the Sacred Heart Shelter in Seattle, Michaela Raikes is working to make a difference for homeless families and their children by supplying a little birthday cheer.

An 8th grader at Seattle’s 500-student Villa Academy, Michaela began visiting the shelter three years ago and joined the shelter’s tutoring program.

Michaela noticed that her pupils never celebrated a birthday. She soon learned their parents often were too poor to afford parties. Some even asked staff members not to mention upcoming birthdays so their children would not be disappointed.

Shelter administrators say many of their clients either have been laid off, are recovering from a drug addiction, or are the victims of domestic abuse. Under such grim circumstances, there seemed little room for birthdays.

But Michaela was determined to change all that. She proposed her “Secret Birthday Pal” last spring. “While celebrating birthdays may not be considered a necessity, it gives parents and their children an important boost during a down period in their lives,” Micahela wrote.

To design"birthday kits,” she created a form for parents that asks children’s ages, allergies, favorite colors, favorite cartoon characters, and interests. Using her own allowance money and baby-sitting earnings, she buys plates, party favors, and small gifts.

Shelter officials pass the kits to parents. “What’s special about this program is the gift Michaela gives to the parents,” said Tracy Massey, a spokeswoman for the shelter. “To have someone provide them a way to throw a party for their child, instead of a stranger just coming in and taking the credit, means a lot to them.”

Although Michaela was content to remain anonymous, her efforts gained national attention after one of her teachers nominated her for the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, which she won. Since then, she has received several private donations.

—Marianne Hurst

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A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 2001 edition of Education Week

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