In certain mystical circles, the number 10 represents the completion of a cycle; the ebb and flow of an action in which what is taken in is given back out.
So the universe may indeed pass out from the following: In Robbinvsille, 10 Girl Scouts, all either 10 years old or just about to be, are sacrificing their birthdays this year in order to give a group birthday party to 100 underprivileged children, many from Trenton (which, incidentally, is 10 miles from Robbinsville). Each of those 10 girls is making gift bags and buying presents for 10 other children. The name of the effort: The Power of 10.
Here’s where the completion of the cycle comes in: Each of those 100 kids who get their party (some for the first time) is expected to pay it forward to someone else some day. That’s part of the deal Girl Scout Troop 72042 of Robbinsville has with the Hamilton-based nonprofit Shine & Inspire, which is built and operated on the basic karmic principle of paying good deeds forward, however small the good deed might be.
To get the money to buy the presents and throw the group birthday bash, the girls are throwing a different party—a fundraiser party, on June 15 at the Robbinsville Field House at the corner of Robbinsville-Allentown Road and West Manor Way. This first party is, the girls hope, a major community event. There will be a DJ, face painting, food, the works.
One hundred percent of ticket sales will go towards items on the 100 children’s wish lists. The price of each ticket? You guessed it, $10. You can find tickets at eventbrite.com by searching in Robbinsville for “Power of 10.”
That the girls are giving up their 10th birthdays for other kids they’ve never met (whose ages range from toddler to teen) both surprises some of the scout moms, and doesn’t. Part of Troop 72042’s DNA is community service, said Michele Shane, mother of one of the girls in the troop. Shane said the idea for the group birthday party came from the girls themselves. They were helping with a Christmas party for underprivileged kids when a thought collectively struck—“Wow, some kids don’t get presents.”
Shane said the realization that birthdays “are kind of like a forgotten holiday” for kids was not far behind. The girls wanted to do something for the other kids that wasn’t tied to the December holidays.
How to go about it was a little more up in the air. That changed when one of the other troop moms came to a concert by the Community Christian Choir, where Shine & Inspire president Carol Feldman spoke.
“They found us,” Feldman said.
Shine & Inspire annually does two large parties at Nottingham Ballroom for “the kids who fall through the cracks,” she said. Those parties are by invitation only, and the kids who attend are found through Shine & Inspire’s networking and other services. Feldman said various volunteer organizations, food pantries, and social service agencies will pint her to kids in need of some extra attention.
The mom who discovered Shine & Inspire is Lisa Werdal, whose daughter turned 10 in March, without the lavish party. That’s actually saying something, considering her 9th birthday party was a $600 affair with 30 other kids attending.
“We went from that to ‘eh.’” Werdal said. “She didn’t complain once.”
That’s also saying something, considering that when the idea of sacrificing her 10th birthday was broached, Werdal’s daughter’s reaction was “I don’t know about this,” she said.
That’s because 10th birthdays have become kind of a big deal, Shane said. Around Robbinsvlle and Hamilton, among her social circle and just outside of it, Shane has seen parties for newly minted 10-year-olds rival sweet 16s and quinceaneras.
But Werdal said her daughter came around quickly enough when she realized the joys and importance of doing things for other people. This year’s party consisted of dinner with family and a couple presents.
‘It was really eye-opening for some of the girls to know that some kids just want basic stuff.’
The party for the 100 kids will be a decidedly bigger deal, Shane said. That party will be in July and feature gift bags, handmade by the girls, on top of the presents. The gift bags include some homemade Play Doh. The money for the July party will come from the June 15 party, and the money to put together the June party comes from some parent money but also from cookie sales by the troop. The girls are giving over their share of the sales to the party, Werdal said.
The presents for the 100 children are from wish lists, Feldman said. The things the kids are asking for range from American Girl dolls to basics like socks. That latter one threw Shane a little when she saw it.
“It was really eye-opening for some of the girls to know that some kids just want basic stuff,” she said. “One girl wants princess bedsheets.”
June’s party will also feature a lot of gift cards and services donated by local businesses. Werdal said the response from the business community has been outstanding.
“Everyone who hears about this says, ‘How can we help?” she said. “It makes the girls feel like they really are doing something.”
By the way, the girls are the face of the public outreach. They’re the ones walking into businesses, from chain restaurants to small mom-and-pops, and asking them to be part of it. When they spoke to the Robbinsville Township Council to bring attention to the party, she said, the girls were beside themselves. For its part, the council couldn’t be happier with the fact that the girls are doing something so selfless.
The positive feedback from businesses and officials has also helped reinforce the message the troop parents are trying to teach the girls—that niceness actually pays off.
“They know they’re going to affect somebody’s life,” Werdal said. “Even if it’s only one person who remembers this for the rest of their life.”
The thing about paying it forward is the other key to the big birthday party.
“For our girls, it’s a lifetime experience,” she said. “Just understanding the concept of paying it forward.”
The lessons of being nice and paying it forward don’t have to be grand celebrations like a birthday party for 100 kids, of course. It can be something small, like the time someone treated Shane’s children to some food at a restaurant. Or smaller, like putting an extra quarter in the shopping cart corral at Aldi’s so the next person gets a freebie.
But Werdal said that even putting together an event like this one (or two, actually) has had its effects on the girls, too. For one thing, her own daughter has made an effort to be nicer to everyone in general. For another, the effort by the troop parents, driving the girls around , getting supplies, and helping them with the giftmaking has shown the girls a great example of team effort and sacrifice.
“Lisa is keeping us all swimming in the same direction,” Shane said. “My biggest concern is having people at the party.”
It’s a healthy fear that keeps Shane and her daughter working hard to raise awareness. But ultimately, Shane doesn’t think no one will show up. The response from everyone so far has been too positive, she said.
What mostly amazes Shane is how the girls are the ones who thought up the idea of doing something like have a giant birthday bash. They wanted to give something to the world, she said.
“People keep saying, ‘Wow, they’re giving up their birthdays?’” she said. “Yeah.”
For Werdal, it’s been a rewarding, if tiring, endeavor to help put the party together. But her daughter went from initially hesitant to a question that both elates and exhausts her: “Can we do this every year?”
Werdal laughed. She’ll see.