Youth Volunteer Council maintains birthday tradition

Emily Lamb is in the business of birthday parties. Her latest celebration, which was held on July 6, had all the makings of any normal birthday party: cake, ice cream, streamers, presents, music, games, and friends - but it was anything but ordinary. Since the age of 11, Emily has been throwing birthday parties for the homeless at Lawrence Community Shelter.

The idea evolved as a result of her early realization that some people were not able to live as well as others. "I went to preschool downtown, and I remember taking walks and seeing folks who didn't have homes, and it just really bugged me." Those images must've made quite an impression on Emily's young mind, for six years later, she set out to share with them one of life's greatest pleasures: the birthday party.

"I was talking to my mom one Christmas as she was getting gifts together for a shelter in Kansas City, and I was like 'Man, it doesn't seem fair that they only get gifts at Christmas time when I get stuff on my birthday too,' and then I was like, 'Hey, I could start birthday parties!' It actually started as a birthday shop, where people could come to get stuff free of charge if they had a friend who was having a birthday, and then it evolved into having birthday parties once a month."

Throwing birthday parties for the community every month-just the thought of it is enough to make a busy adult's mind reel, and here was a child who was able to do it (with the help of her parents, of course). Amazing, to say the least. But as age and responsibility began to increase, Emily found herself struggling to maintain her party schedule.

"I started in the fifth grade and did them consistently about once a month until the end of ninth grade, but then things just got really busy and I didn't make time for it any more," says Emily, now 16.

Since then, she has mastered the art of time management: on top of school, drum major practice, hanging out with friends, and her part-time job at Bismarck Gardens, Emily has also managed to incorporate her true passion, volunteering, back into her daily life through her involvement with the Youth Volunteer Council.

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Rachel LeClear/lawrence.com

Lawrence Community Shelter volunteer Emily Lamb hosts birthday parties for Lawrence's homeless

"I didn't even know about it until I started going to Lawrence High and some of my friends were members. Without the help of the Youth Volunteer Council, I probably wouldn't have started the parties back up again. I really owe a lot to them."

Emily is happy to be back in her old position as birthday hostess extraordinaire; after over a year away from it, she'd really begun to miss the parties and the many friends she'd made.

"I really felt like I was doing something good for the community, and it's been really nice to start that up again, and to see old familiar faces and talk and stuff. A lot of the folks that I knew really well have left the city, so that's kind of disappointing, but it's cool to see folks move on, and it's always nice to meet new people."

Since the project's inception, Emily and her parents have received calls from people all over the country who are eager to get involved or to send donations. Soon they'll have their own how-to guide in birthday party organization.

"My mom and I want to start folders that describe how to start something like this-it wouldn't necessarily have to be a birthday party, but we'd just give it as an example. We want to send them out to groups like the Youth Volunteer Council in other towns around Kansas and see how it goes. We have it organized but haven't sent them out yet. I think that's our goal for the year."

And in the meantime, they'll keep the parties rocking. "My goal is to have a barbecue in late September or early October. When I was doing the parties regularly, we'd have a barbecue at least once a year, and that's really fun. I remember the first one we had-we invited the community and got the paper involved and stuff, and I think we had maybe 200-300 people show up, so that was a lot of fun."

The barbecue has not yet been scheduled, but anyone interested in helping with this or future birthday parties may contact Margaret Perkins-McGuinness at the Rose Hill Volunteer Center at info@rhvc.org or 865-5030. The Lawrence Community Shelter is also currently in need of volunteers to help with preparing and serving food as well as other evening activities.

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