'Tis better to give than to receive.
For children of a generation that gets piles of gifts from friends and family with each birthday, the ancient proverb derived from the Book of Acts may sound strange - almost nonsensical. How could giving something to someone else be more personally rewarding than receiving the latest gadget or gizmo for yourself?
But some area children have recently discovered the power birthday parties can hold, using them as a means to collect donations for area non-profits and others in need.
From left, Griffin Bogdanowicz, Aden Froah and Max Vaughn play at Mary Ann’s Day Care in Jamestown. Each of the boys used his most recent birthday party as a chance to collect donations for local non-profits.
P-J photo by Dave Emke
Jen Froah's oldest son, Aden, turned 9 in February. With about 20 of his friends scheduled to attend his party, he came to a realization, she said.
"He looked at me and goes, 'Mom, I have enough toys,'" said Mrs. Froah, of Lakewood. "'I don't need to get presents from that many people (he continued). Maybe I should do a donation party.'"
Aden's love of dogs led him to collect gifts for donation to New Leash on Life, an animal rescue in Celoron, at his party. The Salvation Army's Anew Center, Court Appointed Special Advocates, the Randolph Community Cupboard and a local boy facing medical troubles have all also received the benefits of generosity in recent months.
Mrs. Froah said that as more children are exposed to the idea, by going to parties where charities and non-profits reap the rewards, she hopes they are touched to do the same when their next birthday approaches.
''I definitely think this is a trend that we're going to start seeing more,'' Mrs. Froah said. ''They're getting their party, they're getting fun with their friends, and they're being able to give back to somebody else at the same time.''
MAKING CHILDREN HAPPY
It was Aden's younger brother, Nolan, who attended such a party and brought the idea home.
Griffin Bogdanowicz, a first-grader at Southwestern Elementary School, celebrated his sixth birthday last March with a party at the Lakewood YMCA. According to his mother, Maureen, it was his first birthday party with friends, and she wanted it to be special.
She also realized each child would be bringing a present for her son, and that would be unnecessary.
''He is blessed with enough toys,'' Mrs. Bogdanowicz said. ''I think kids have enough, personally. They can only have so many toys. They play with them for five minutes and that's it.''
After attending the Women's Health Expo at the Riverwalk Center in Jamestown, Mrs. Bogdanowicz learned of the needs of the Salvation Army's Anew Center. Hearing a list of items that ''broke (her) heart,'' she said, she approached Griffin with the idea. It was an idea, she said, she'd originally heard used by friends in the Corning area - collecting donations for a non-profit in lieu of birthday gifts.
It was a hard sell at first, she said, but he came to a realization.
''We sat down and said, 'Griffin, look at everything you have. There are children who don't have anything,''' Mrs. Bogdanowicz said. ''I think when we put it in that perspective, he understood.''
Griffin also understood he would still be getting birthday presents from his parents and other family members.
And he also would be getting a fun day at the YMCA with his friends.
''We wanted our kids to know that birthday parties are about being with your friends and having fun,'' Mrs. Bogdanowicz said. ''It's not about the materialistic joy.''
The joy of opening gifts still happened at the party - only Griffin opened bags containing bottles of baby shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, diapers and other necessities for the Anew Center instead of toys he could take home himself. He and his mother delivered three tubs full of items to the Anew Center following the party.
Representatives from the Anew Center thanked Griffin in the form of a letter, his mother said, to let him know he is a special little boy for making other little children happy. Griffin's younger sister, McKenna, followed in his footsteps at her fifth birthday party in November, collecting donations of toys and other items for Court Appointed Special Advocates, which assists children in foster care.
''We are very proud of both our kids,'' said their father, Bob. ''Once we explained it to them, they were all for it and excited to do it.''
A FRIEND IN NEED
Max Vaughn was in attendance for Griffin's birthday party as well. When he celebrated his ninth birthday with a party at Peek'n Peak earlier this week, he became the latest in the group of friends to put others above himself.
His mother, Jennie, said that seeing the selfless act Griffin performed at his birthday party inspired her to ask Max if he would like to do the same as his big day approached.
''I said, 'No pressure. Do whatever you want. If you want presents, I completely understand that,''' Mrs. Vaughn said. ''He said, 'I think I'd like to take up a collection for Ryan.'''
Ryan is Ryan Samuelson, a 10-year-old Bemus Point boy who has faced serious health problems throughout his young life. The Vaughns and Samuelsons attend the same church, Bemus Point United Methodist, where Max has heard talk about Ryan's medical concerns and complications. Max even gave $1.50 of his own money when the Vaughns made a previous donation to the cause, his mother said, though he doesn't know Ryan personally.
''He doesn't make much money, so $1.50 is a lot to him,'' his mother said.
As he readied for his first birthday party with all his friends, Max said he was also thinking about how happy Ryan and his family would be to receive his donation.
''I think he's going to feel excited and happy,'' Max said. ''He's got stuff to deal with - medical bills - and he'll get gifts to play with to make him happy.''
Max's mother said that she is encouraged that through the party, Max will learn a lesson about thinking about others before himself. Max said he agreed to accept donations instead of gifts, and that other children should do the same, because giving provides a good feeling.
''(It's good) to make other people feel better and to make other people feel good inside their heart,'' he said. ''(Those who give) know that they made the right choice, instead of just keeping it for themselves and feeling selfish.''
FEEDING THE HUNGRY
Alanna Sluga of Randolph turned 6 last month with a party at the Village Dance Studio.
Her mother, Andrea, prompted by a news article she had recently read, told Alanna she could either get gifts at the party or help others. The answer, she said, came quickly.
''She said, 'I just wanna help people,''' Mrs. Sluga said. ''I was a little surprised, but yet not. She's a very caring, nice little girl.''
Alanna said that she wanted to feed hungry people, Mrs. Sluga said, so her invitations included a notice that all gifts should come in the form of donations to the Randolph Community Cupboard. Her entire class from Gail N. Chapman Elementary School was invited, which would have meant a lot of gifts at a traditional party. But that's not what Alanna wanted, her mother said.
When the donation was made the Community Cupboard, a staff member there was able to put the donation in perspective for Alanna, her mother added.
''She went with us to drop it off, because I wanted her to experience that ... (and) the lady tried to explain to her that she's helping a lot of people in town that don't have a lot of food,'' Mrs. Sluga said. ''She seemed really happy about what the lady said.''
Alanna's mother said that the girl has not been boastful about her donation, nor about the praise she has received in the community for it. Rather, she has shrugged it off as a simple gesture that should be natural for anyone.
''She's not taking people's compliments with the same reaction as she did when she delivered the food,'' Mrs. Sluga said. ''She's just like, 'Well, it was a nice thing to do.'''
SPREADING THE JOY
Mrs. Froah said New Leash On Life was extremely gracious for the donation Aden made to their animal rescue.
''They were really thankful,'' she said. ''They took us through and showed us all their animals - they have everything from lizards to a hairless cat to a potbelly pig.''
The Froahs have two dogs of their own - a 2-year-old springer spaniel-Lab mix named Theodore and a Newfoundland-St. Bernard mix named Willa - whom Aiden loves very much, his mother said. The ability to help other animals that aren't as lucky as his was a special one for him, she added, though she wondered right up until the big day if he would change his mind.
''He made this decision a couple months before the party, so I had wondered it he was going to regret it,'' she said. ''But he loved it. ... He had fun opening up and pulling out dog toys and things like that. He thought it was really neat.''
Mrs. Froah said she is hopeful that the joy that emanates from children during such parties helps the donation bug continue to spread.
''Once you've gone to a couple parties like that, it kind of gives you that idea - parents as well as kids - that maybe giving is a little more fun,'' she said.