Birthdays are important developmental milestones, Benita Webber said, and every guardian deserves the opportunity to shop for a gift that matches the relevance of their child’s big day.
“Kids who are struggling and facing chaos every day of their lives deserve to wake up — on the day that’s most special to them — and be recognized and celebrated in the traditional way we do in our society,” said Webber, founder and executive director of Birthday Connections.
Birthday Connections is a nonprofit and resource for underserved families in Kansas City’s urban core to provide children with meaningful birthdays, Webber explained. Through Birthday Connections’ online shopping platform, guardians are empowered with the ability to shop for their child’s birthday gifts at no cost and with the dignity of choice.
“Most times when families with financial struggles are provided gifts, it’s through an ‘Adopt-a-Child’ or a donation from the community — we wanted to break that cycle,” Webber said. “… In our pilot program, we heard a story of a mom who came in to pick up holiday gifts. When she found out she was able to actually pick out what she wanted to bring home, the tension flowed out of her and tears just started streaming down her face. She said she had never, ever chosen a gift to give her child. They were always just handed to her.”
Birthday Connections provides for children 1 to 18 years of age and offers a variety of gifts, gift cards, activities and treats, Webber said, noting that the shopping platform is reflective of the communities they serve.
The nonprofit partners with local social service agencies to get connected with families who wish to utilize their platform. Birthday Connections works through the agencies and never directly contacts the families.
“The agencies communicate and handle the delivery of gifts,” Webber said. “The families are familiar with their agency, and this protects their privacy. We’re aiming to give them the same experience they would have if they ordered a gift from Amazon. … We are currently partnered with 14 agencies in Kansas City, which is just the tip of the iceberg. Our ultimate goal is to connect with every agency in the city that has families in their program who need this service.”
Click here to check out Birthday Connections and learn how you can get involved.
The idea behind Birthday Connections came to Webber two years ago when she was looking for a volunteer opportunity, she recalled. Unable to find any nonprofits that directly targeted celebrating birthdays in the way she envisioned, she decided to start her own.
“I started talking to people, and we literally grew this from the ground up,” she shared, noting that she has a board and team of 10 volunteers. “There are no models for what we are doing, but Kansas City is very blessed to have programs like Nonprofit Connect and the [University of Missouri-Kansas City] Bloch School of Management. There’s a lot of support for creating your nonprofit in Kansas City.”
Webber also utilized her experience in entrepreneurship, volunteering and research to get Birthday Connections up and running, she said.
“My husband has his own business working with publishers, and when we lived in San Diego, I started a green business working with schools and other nonprofits,” Webber said. “… I have a special education teaching background and got my Master’s in Information Science. This has all helped me pursue what I really care about, which is helping people. I think the heart of it all is what really drives me.”
With Birthday Connections essentially being a digital marketplace, Webber and the board are seeking out a technology expert or tech company that can give them feedback and mentorship, she said.
“We store all of our information on a relational database called Airtable, and we know that we’re only touching the tip of the iceberg on what it can really do for us to streamline our process as we work with clients,” Webber said. “We’ve done the basics, but now there’s deeper database work that we’re just not utilizing properly.
“Wish list down the road is that we use Wix as our website platform, everything is developed through Wix, but again — are there things that are beyond our knowledge? I’d love to hear someone else who understands it better share their ideas,” she continued.
Click here to connect with Benita Webber and the Birthday Connections teams.
Celebrating birthdays across the nation
Birthday Connections is gearing up for its first major fundraising event, Webber shared. The event — set for 10 a.m. to noon at Chicken N Pickle in North Kansas City — is expected to feature bingo, a silent auction, 50/50 raffle and other games.
“The money we have raised so far has been through individual donors who have a passion for what we are doing,” Webber said. “But as we grow, we are starting to look at some grant funding and would love to have a sponsor for a program. We are open to talking about what a sponsorship could look like.”
Birthday Connections started from Webber’s interest in volunteering and has evolved into a full-time venture. Webber’s memories of celebrating her own children’s birthdays and the strive to provide a truly impactful service is what motivates her, she shared.
“I was the youngest of five kids, it was a different time, but I don’t remember a lot of birthdays,” she said. “I think about my kids and how much fun they had for their birthdays and what it meant for them to celebrate. We hear from our surveys how parents feel stressed or sad or overwhelmed. Birthdays are so much more than just fluff. It’s a chance to create this joyous memory.”
When Webber envisions the future of Birthday Connections, she knows that this platform and idea can be spread and replicated across the country, she said.
“We found a solution that is not only doable in Kansas City,” Webber said. “This could be implemented in other cities in the United States and even rural areas because kids everywhere deserve to celebrate their birthday.”