By Nance Ebert, Contributing Writer
Southborough – For most children, birthdays are a magical time where family and friends gather and gifts are received. Imagine the child whose family is not able to celebrate the day with a special gift.
Smiling Kids, Inc. provides birthday gifts to those in need. Southborough residents Bob and Karen Sommers co-founded the charity in 2002. They wanted to get involved in something that was entrepreneurial and would do some good at the same time.
“It was around the holidays and the Toys for Tots drive was going on,” Bob Sommers said. “We started wondering what happens to these children on their birthdays. That was the genesis of Smiling Kids, Inc.”
They started out small, with a couple of local organizations in Southborough – the Southborough Food Pantry and the Southborough Youth and Family Services – where the concept was tested. There was a definite need so they expanded to other groups, including Horizons for Homeless Children.
“We start at the social service organization levels, so, in this case, let’s say Southborough Youth and Family Services,” Sommers said. “We know the audience that they are catering to. They will provide to us, on a quarterly basis, the number of children that have birthdays coming up. We don’t want to know the names of the children and we want to remain anonymous to the child who is the ultimate recipient of this birthday gift.”
The parent receives a Target gift card they can use to purchase a birthday gift of their child’s choosing. They choose to purchase the gift cards at Target because there are no firearms, tobacco or alcohol sold there. Both Bob and Karen felt strongly that the cards be used appropriately.
“The parent is actually going out and selecting the birthday gift for their child. This is very empowering for the parent. The child also gets something that they wanted. For the child receiving the present it’s coming from mom or dad, it’s not coming from Smiling Kids, Inc.,” Sommers noted.
One of the ways money is raised is through “Parties with a Purpose.” It involves having a birthday party where, in lieu of gifts, the host asks their guests to make a donation to Smiling Kids, Inc.
“This is a great way to teach philanthropy at home,” explained Elizabeth Masterson, executive director of Smiling Kids, Inc. “Families with children that participate in this type of fundraising also receive a ‘Certificate of Smiles,’ acknowledging their generosity by asking that a donation be made in lieu of gifts. This also instills a great sense of pride for the birthday child.”
On Nov. 8, Smiling Kids, Inc., held a Birthday Bash Gala at the Charter Oaks Country Club in Hudson. There was a live and silent auction, cocktails and dancing. Dianne Luby, President of Horizons for Homeless Children, attended and spoke about all the good the charity has done since it first began.
The evening was a huge success and raised $65, 000 for the charity.
“We have provided well over 10,000 birthday gifts to children since its inception,” Sommers said.
To volunteer or for more information, visit www.smilingkidsinc.org.