By CATHE DYKSTRA
Your Voice Contributor
Last week, I celebrated a birthday, not a big one, but one of the little ones that follows a jubilee year. Unlike many of my friends, I don’t mind getting older as long as being my age doesn’t mean that I look my age, act my age or feel my age. However, birthdays, even for those of us who have surpassed the big milestones, seem to bring a certain amount of angst. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if adults felt the same pure joy about their birthdays that children do?
Think back to one of your childhood birthdays. Do you remember the anticipation you felt looking forward to your party, the cake and ice cream, and the presents from family and friends? I do. I remember the birthday when I got my first Beetles’ album; I was six. I remember the year I got my add-a-bead necklace; I was 13. And, I remember my 18th birthday when I got the electric typewriter that would get me through college in the days before computers and iPads.
For those of us who are parents, I am sure we also remember many special birthdays of our children, like the first one when they got cake all over their faces, or when they got their first bikes, or the years that the parties were at Mr. Gatti’s or Chuck E. Cheese’s. All of these birthdays are special. When you think about it, every birthday for every person is special. It is a time to celebrate being here on earth, being part of a community that cares about you and being loved by family and friends.
At Family Scholar House, we provide housing and support for disadvantaged single-parent college students and their children. All of our families are transitioning from poverty, homelessness and, most often, domestic violence, through education. Children living in poverty and experiencing homelessness and violence in their families often suffer the low self-esteem that comes from wondering whether they are the reason that life seems so difficult for their parents. They are never to blame; however, that does not keep children from internalizing the pain and blaming themselves. Our counselors and therapists work with all of our children to help them let go of their feelings of responsibility for their families’ challenges and reclaim their childhood. And, celebrating birthdays with their moms – experiencing the joy of being valued simply for being here on earth – is an important part of their healing.
Currently, we have 168 families in our residential program and those families have a total of 265 children. We want all of the children in our families to feel the joy and excitement of their birthdays; but, with very limited resources and no discretionary income, our student parents struggle to provide the very basics of a birthday celebration for their children.
Fortunately, we have a small group of supporters who understand how meaningful it can be for a child to feel special on his or her birthday. These birthday benefactors provide support for our student parents to celebrate their children’s birthdays by donating $20 gift cards that cover the purchase of a toy or game, a cake mix, icing and candles – the basics of a birthday party. This allows student parents to provide a special celebration that is not only important for their children, but also a very meaningful reminder of the blessings that their children are for them. Yet, we have experienced significant growth in the past two years, tripling our residential capacity, and we need more birthday benefactors to share in the appreciation of these precious children.
This year, I invite you to adopt a new tradition in celebrating your own birthday. I invite you to remember the excitement you felt about your special day when you were a child and share that feeling with disadvantaged children by being a birthday benefactor for Family Scholar House. Please consider making birthday celebrations special for some or all of the FSH children who share your birth month.
To learn more about Family Scholar House and our commitment to helping disadvantaged student parents realize their educational goals to become contributing members of our community, please visit our website at www.FamilyScholarHouse.org.
To say, “Yes! I want to help children have happy birthdays,” please contact us at 502.813.3086. I promise that by making a child’s birthday special your birthday will have more joy also.
Happy Birthday from Family Scholar House.
Cathe Dykstra is chief possibility officer, president & CEO of Family Scholar House. She has a B.A. in Economics from Wake Forest University, with banking and financial experience and over 20 years of experience in social work with the goal of assisting special populations through unique approaches to attaining and maintaining self-sufficiency.
Ms. Dykstra is committed to promoting the importance of education as an asset that appreciates over time and provides long-term self-sufficiency through career-track employment.
With the three campuses in Louisville and outreach programs in Carrollton, Kentucky and southern Indiana, Family Scholar House has increased housing capacity and expanded services to meet the growing needs of our region. Family Scholar House was honored as a 2010 national winner of the Charles L. Edson Award and, in December 2010, was recognized as the Not-for-Profit of the Year by Business First. In August 2011, Family Scholar House received the Service Provider of the Year award from the Coalition for the Homeless.