February 16, 2012

Bright Blessings - Celebrating Birthdays and Bringing Joy

Go Inspire Go (GIG) is proud to this month’s Social Good Spotlight, to raise awareness of individuals and organizations doing good in their communities in order to inspire others to take action and ultimately make real social change. GIG believes everyone can find inspiration in helping others, whether it’s through doing small acts of kindness or working at an organization dedicated to making a difference.  If you know of an individual or organization that you think should be featured, please contact Marcia and help us forward their stories to inspire the world.

GIG Social Good Spotlight:
BRIGHT BLESSINGS – Celebrating birthdays and bringing joy to homeless children and their families
by Marcia Estarija Silva

Credit: Lorayn DeLuca Photography

What is Bright Blessings?
Bright Blessings is a 100% volunteer-led nonprofit organization that brings joy and support to homeless children in the greater Charlotte region of North Carolina.  The programs of Bright Blessings serve over 3,000 children in need each year, celebrating birthdays and providing critical care essentials for homeless children and supporting the emergent needs of homeless babies.  

What is Bright Blessings’ mission?  What big changes is it trying to make?
Bright Blessings’ mission is to celebrate, inspire, and support homeless children, while offering fun and meaningful volunteer opportunities for both adults and youth. Charlotte, North Carolina saw a 36% rise in family homelessness in 2010, the second-highest increase among 26 cities studied. In February 2011, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the second-largest school district in North Carolina and the twentieth-largest in the nation, reported a record 3,564 identified homeless children enrolled in the county's schools.  The programs of Bright Blessings provide positive emotional experiences to homeless children and their families by lifting spirits, boosting confidence, broadening horizons and supporting critical needs.  

Volunteers at work
  
How is Bright Blessings using its power to help others?
The National Center on Family Homelessness reports that homeless families make up about 1/3 of the total homeless population and approximately 1.6 million children will experience homelessness over the course of a year. Forty two percent of children in homeless families are under the age of six.  Children experiencing homelessness have higher rates of health, emotional, and behavior problems and twice as likely to have learning disabilities as non-homeless children. 

Bright Blessings offers two programs, Bless-A-Birthday and Bless-A-Baby, that bring hope and boost confidence for homeless children ages tots to teens, and offer help for babies starting life when their families struggle with homelessness.  Each program incorporates education, enrichment and critical-care needs for the children. These two programs serve over 3,000 homeless children every year.

Bright Blessings began developing a national network in 2009, with pilot affiliate chapters now organizing and under way in multiple cities across the nation.

Blessing baskets

What inspires Bright Blessings to do this work?
Bright Blessings was founded in 2005 by Amy and John Cervantes of Mint Hill, North Carolina as a family service project to help needy children while instilling a love and commitment for community service in their own children.  It began as a monthly birthday party at one homeless shelter and grew into a nonprofit organization that operates numerous programs and supports projects for thousands of homeless children and families across the greater Charlotte region.  

When asked what inspires Amy Cervantes, Executive Director and Co-Founder, to do this work, she replied that it was “seeing the impact through the children and families we serve, and hearing the stories from social workers.” 

“We cry every week at Bright Blessings-- and it's a mixed bag of emotions because we are touched and happy to know that our programs are having such a positive impact on homeless children, yet we are saddened that so many families are continuing to struggling,” she said.

Celebrating a girl’s 8th birthday with her mom 
and other kids at a homeless shelter

What is Bright Blessings focusing on now?  
Bright Blessings continues to focus on its two core programs, Bless-A-Birthday and Bless-A-Baby:
Bless-A-Birthday
o   Shelter Services - This program brings the joy of birthday parties to homeless children ages tots to teens--a first time experience for most—at area shelters while giving them a sense of recognition and value on their special days.
o   Student Services - Classroom birthday parties are provided anonymously for transient homeless elementary students, and ‘Fit to Celebrate’ backpacks are provided for transient middle and high school students.  The school children served through this program are transient; they do not live in area shelters but rather in motels, campgrounds, cars and other difficult situations. 
Bless-A-Baby - Hundreds of babies across the greater Charlotte region are born into homelessness every year.  Blessing Baskets bring help and hope to needy mothers while providing a healthy and positive start to life for babies living in transient conditions or shelters. Mothers are given a laundry basket filled with new clothing, blankets, food, diapers, baby care supplies and healthcare essentials, along with a few books and gifts to support the tiniest victims of homelessness in our community. 

Youth volunteers

How can GIGSTERS get involved and support Bright Blessings?  
Bright Blessings' current greatest need is support for its Student Services birthday program, due to the rise in number of transient homeless youth it is now serving (approximately 1,400 this year, as compared to 600 last year).  

1. Volunteer - Local GIGSTERS can volunteer at Bright Blessings to help prepare supplies and gift package for the kids.
2. Start your own support project - Bright Blessings offers many support projects that can be completed from any location by participants of all ages, including children, from filling treat bags or making 'goodie gulps' to preparing bags of hygiene essentials or filling birthday snack bags.  Find detailed project instruction sheets on the Bright Blessings website
3. Support and bring joy to a homeless child with a monetary sponsorship.  There are many levels of sponsorship - $35 will provide one homeless elementary student with a classroom party package for his/her birthday; $50 will provide a 'Baby Basics' set for a homeless infant (bottles, bibs, burp cloths, diapers, wipes, and bathing products); $75 will provide treat bags for 25 homeless children living at a shelter; $100 will supply a complete Blessing Basket for one homeless baby; $200 will provide party supplies, craft activities, meal and beverages and a cake for a birthday party at a homeless shelter.  Click here to find out how your donation will support Bright Blessings.

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