Making a child's birthday special is often left to moms. But what happens to kids on their birthday when they are in foster care? Enter Jane Hoffman. The former Wall Street trader and mother of three set out to make sure foster kids' birthdays weren't forgotten. We're thrilled to announce a new charm set that celebrates A Birthday Wish. And once you read our Q&A with Jane, you'll understand why we're talking birthdays on the eve of Mother's Day.
You adopted a child before you launched A Birthday Wish. Did it lead you to form your non-profit? Before my husband and I married I told him that it was my lifelong dream to adopt a child. Becoming an adoptive parent has literally shaped every aspect of my life. Traveling to the other side of the world to meet a child and pledging to love and cherish them for the rest of your life is a big leap of faith.
Whose idea was it to create A Birthday Wish? We heard your kids had some input. In 2014 I was with my three daughters at a festival and stopped by a CASA of Union County table to get more information. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) advocates for children in the foster care in the court system. We discussed ways that my daughters and I could help children in foster care—holiday gifts, back to school, etc. Finally, I asked about birthdays. They explained that for a variety of reasons children in foster care might not receive a gift on their special day. I couldn't believe that kids in my community were not being celebrated. We immediately agreed to grant the birthday wishes of every child they served. That was about 180 kids; three years later we celebrate over 1,000 children a year.
How does A Birthday Wish work? Each month we receive wish lists from our partners in 12 New Jersey counties. Each list has the initials, age, gender and exact birthday wish for each child. We post the wishes to our website. Donors can select a wish and either donate funds and we will purchase the gift or they can purchase the gift themselves and mail it to our office. Gifts are wrapped at our monthly wrapping parties and a special birthday card accompanies each gift.
Can people outside of your area help your mission? We have donors from across the country and children are some of our best donors! Each month children ask birthday party guests to donate to A Birthday Wish in lieu of gifts. It is a great was for children to share their birthday with a child in foster car
How many birthdays have you granted? Since 2014 we have raised over $250,000 and granted well over 3,500 birthday wishes.
What was your favorite birthday wish granted? Every Birthday Wish we receive is a like a little window into a child's heart. Recently, we had a 13-year-old boy who wished for a cello. An incredible donor granted his wish! Another special wish was from a young woman who had just aged out of foster care. She had moved into her first apartment with literally one knife, one fork and one spoon. Our donors outfitted her kitchen, bedroom and bathroom; they had a house warming party for her.
Do you have plans to grow the organization beyond your region? We are currently granting birthday wishes in New Jersey but I am excited to announce that this May we are launching our first annual Road to Wishes tour. Throughout the spring and summer we will be surprising children, teens and young adults, granting their birthday wishes up and down the east coast. Our first stop on the tour will be Tampa, Florida. We will be celebrating Kayla’s 18th birthday. She is about to age out of foster care and really deserves a special day!!
(Photo credit: Philip Friedman)