Birthday Wishes, a Huntington-based nonprofit group that throws birthday parties for homeless children, celebrated their own birthday bash last week to mark three years of volunteerism on Long Island.
Lisa Vasiloff, executive director and co-founder of Birthday Wishes, traveled from the group’s Newton, Mass. headquarters for their LI Volunteer Appreciation Day and to speak about the how this grassroots organization has made a difference in the lives of more than 24,000 children in the past decade.
“We had hundreds and hundreds of people contact us about starting a Birthday Wishes branch in their area and Jamie was really the only person who really resonated with us and we could tell that she understood our philosophy and our values,” Vasiloff said of Jamie Rapfogel, who runs the LI affiliate.
Rapfogel’s office is one of seven, including five in Massachusetts, one on LI and one in Rhode Island.
“My family and I were looking for some kind of community service that we could do together and I actually was reading about Birthday Wishes of Massachusetts and how it was started by three friends and it sounded exactly like what I would like to do,” Rapfogel said.
The group has their work cut out for them. About 2,458 people in Suffolk County and 891 people in Nassau County were homeless in January of 2012, excluding chronically homeless individuals and veterans, according to Long Island Coalition for the Homeless.
Last year, Birthday Wishes Long Island celebrated 234 children’s birthdays and more than 875 homeless children attended those parties, Rapfogel said.
The LI branch has grown since its inception and Rapfogel is hopeful that growth will continue. In the beginning, the organization worked with Community Housing Innovations, a not-for-profit housing group that runs 15 shelters and emergency housing, but it has since branched out, Rapfogel said.
“We’re going to expand in this upcoming year to more shelters to try and hit our goal of really being in every shelter on Long Island,” she said.
The Volunteer Appreciation Day provided a moment to reflect on those successes and prepare for the future.
“I’m excited because for most of the people that are coming it’s the first time that they’ve seen our offices, so it’s like our coming out party. We used to work out of my basement, so it’s really, really nice to have space,” Rapfogel said.
Andrea Horowitz, a teacher in Harborfeilds, was among those honored for volunteering her time and getting Harborfeilds Elementary School involved with Birthday Wishes.
The other two honored volunteers were Rapfogel’s twin 15-year-old daughters, Jessica and Nicole.
“They brought it into their High School and they do more for this than I think I do,” Rapfogel said. “They come to the parties, they organize the volunteers, they wrap the presents, they have done events in the school. It’s pretty cool.”
For Rapfogel and her family, Birthday Wishes is not only an opportunity to give back to the community. It’s also a bonding experience.
“The highlight for me, personally, is walking into a homeless shelter with my mother on one side of me and my kids on the other and, as a family, stepping in and making the day a little brighter for a child,” Rapfogel said.
For additional information or to get involved visit: www.birthdaywishes.org