Volunteer helps kids unwrap birthday smiles

By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer

Photo: Sheila Gaffey, dedicated volunteer at Smiling Kids, Inc. for 12 years. (Photos/submitted)

Westborough – Every child should experience the thrill of opening a present on their birthday. Shrewsbury resident Sheila Gaffey has devoted her time to making that happen through her volunteer work with Smiling Kids, Inc., based in Southborough.

The local nonprofit was the inspiration of Bob and Karen Sommers after attending holiday parties where guests were asked to bring and donate gifts for children to charities, such as Toys for Tots.

“Everyone feels great about donating gifts during the holidays,” said Gaffey, “but what about the need for donations the rest of the year?”

Smiling Kids, Inc., was founded in 2003, the same year that Gaffey met the Sommers. Its goal is to help children celebrate other milestones, with a focus on birthdays. The organization works with local youth, family and social service agencies, including Birthday Wishes and Horizon for Homeless Children. A gift card is donated to the agency so it can be delivered to the parent of the child in need.

The referring agency is responsible for the screening of qualified families and will work with the families to teach the parents how to purchase the right type of gift for their child. The gift that the child opens on his or her birthday has been personally chosen by a parent.

“It’s a gift for the child as well as for the parent,” Gaffey said. “The parent feels great about being able to pick out a personal gift for their child that they would not have been able to do otherwise.”

In 2014, Smiling Kids, Inc., provided 1,000 gifts.

“The need for gifts has grown over the years,” Gaffey noted, “but the organization will continue to grow as the need grows.”

When Gaffey first started volunteering with the organization, she organized and managed fundraising events, such as an annual gala, and assisted with accounting. About three years ago, she became a board member and now manages all the accounting functions and has also taken on a strategic management role.

The personal importance of her work with Smiling Kids, Inc., has increased since Gaffey became a mom of two young daughters herself.

“Every child should be able to open a gift on their birthday,” she said. “Every parent should be able to see their child smile.”

Gaffey said there are many generous families in the area who have donated to the organization by participating in Parties with a Purpose. This gives kids the opportunity to help other kids by asking guests attending their birthday parties to write a check to Smiling Kids in lieu of their own birthday presents.

Gaffey works full-time as a finance manager in addition to her volunteer work with Smiling Kids, Inc., and being a mom.

“It’s really hard to find the time when looking at schedules and family commitments,” she said, “but volunteering is like exercising – the reward is so great. It is worth making the time for it.”

Smiling Kids, Inc., is run solely by volunteers and 100 percent of donated funds are used to purchase birthday gifts for children in need. To learn more or make a donation, visit http://smilingkidsinc.org.

Community Advocate Staff: