Here’s a truism that all can surely get behind: every child deserves a fun, unforgettable birthday.
A JustServe project dubbed “Birthday Buddies” helps ensure that young foster children living in a corner of Southern California can celebrate their birthdays with balloons, banners, birthday cake and even a few presents.
It’s apropos that a local JustServe opportunity designed to deliver birthday joy to Ventura County-area foster children was largely established and co-coordinated by a fellow youth from their own community.
A few years ago, Rachel Driggs, a 16-year-old Latter-day Saint, was given a school assignment to “think like a sociologist” and develop a fictitious charity. “I thought to myself, ‘Why do a fake charity — why not do something for real?’” she told the Church News.
With the encouragement of her mother, Shawna Driggs, Rachel reached out to the James Storehouse, a local non-profit charitable organization that provides needed supplies and services for foster families, including providing birthday party supplies for the children they serve.
While speaking with officials at James Storehouse, Rachel was reminded of a sobering fact: many foster children have never had a birthday party.
So together they developed “Birthday Buddies,” a youth-driven JustServe volunteer program that collects all the supplies required for a proper birthday party — including gifts, handmade birthday banners and cards and even a cake mix. The donated items are then boxed and delivered to the James Storehouse.
“The foster families can then come to the storehouse, take home a birthday box and give a birthday party to their foster child,” said Shawna Driggs.
Shawna Driggs, who serves as a JustServe representative in the Newbury Park California Stake, immediately recognized that “Birthday Buddies” would make an ideal project for JustServe, the Church-sponsored online initiative that connects volunteers with service projects in their own communities.
“I remember telling Rachel, ‘JustServe is the tool you will need to be effective and get the word out,’” said Shawna Driggs.
Once “Birthday Buddies” was posted on the JustServe site, volunteers quickly took action. Several ward Relief Societies and other local youth groups were soon connecting with Rachel and Shawna through the JustServe site and making “Birthday Buddies” donations. Friends and relatives also joined in.
Counted among the JustServe “Birthday Buddies” project participants were patients at a local organization that helps people battling eating disorders. The patients helped craft birthday banners for the boxes, experiencing the confidence-building power of caring for others in need.
Meanwhile, in 2019, a group of Google employees organized a JustServe/”Birthday Buddies” project at a company retreat, filling several birthday boxes. Rachel helped coordinate the Google donation pick-up and delivered the boxes to the James Storehouse with her older brother, Spencer, according to Shawna Driggs.
Over the course of the ongoing “Birthday Buddies” project, dozens of foster children have enjoyed a festive party thanks to supplies donated through the JustServe project.
In 2020, a local interfaith women’s group asked Rachel to help coordinate a community youth service project. She learned from her contacts at the James Storehouse that many former foster children who had become adults needed bedroom, bathroom and kitchen supplies as they began living on their own.
A subsequent JustServe project was organized to gather the desperately needed household items for the young adults who were leaving foster care. Rachel’s efforts on that project included meeting with fellow youth from a local Jewish congregation.
No surprise, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put much of the JustServe “Birthday Buddies” project on hold. But the Driggses and others in the community are excited to get back to their full efforts once circumstances in Southern California allow.
“JustServe is a wonderful vehicle to find organizations in the community that have a need for volunteers,” said Shawna Driggs.
Rachel added that serving other young people in her community has been a blessing. The high school junior has made new friends, and she feels a stronger connection to her neighbors of all faiths and backgrounds.
“Being able to serve others and see how my actions can help others has been amazing for my own self-esteem,” she said.
For Shawna Driggs, watching her daughter step forward and prayerfully find ways to lift her neighbors has been its own treasured gift. “An important part of learning and growing up is helping our children understand that the world needs them. They can make such a difference.”