By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Senior
Volunteers and supporters are being recruited for an uplifting program that will debut this August in three Yukon schools with monthly birthday parties for students.
In its seventh year, the non-profit Beautiful Day Foundation will come to Shedeck, Myers and Central elementary schools in a pilot program during the 2019-20 school year.
“Beautiful Day is a way for community members to get involved in the kids’ lives,” said Sarah (Kroutil) Hays, Team Yukon liaison for the Beautiful Day Foundation.
“Once a month, we have a birthday party for students at lunchtime in the cafeteria. We have a special table set up for them among their peers, but only the birthday kids sit at this table.”
The birthday table is decorated with balloons, birthday cards, “Beautiful Day” bracelets, plates, and napkins.
Lunch and desserts are provided for the monthly birthday celebrants through donations.
“Celebrating amongst your peers is really important to kids so we also bring in cupcakes,” Hays said. “Each classroom gets a box of cupcakes, enough for every kid in the class, every month. So the birthday kids pass out these cupcakes. They get to celebrate amongst their peers and not just at the birthday table. They get end-of-the-day celebrations as well in the classroom.”
Beautiful Day volunteers sit down at the birthday table each month to interact with the children.
These volunteers ask the students questions like: What’s your day look like? What’s your favorite subject? If you could do anything for one day, what would it be? What do you want to be when you grow up?
“They ask questions to start ‘investing’ in them and to get them excited,” Hays said. “This helps these kids to see that their community members care for them and they believe in them. It’s almost a form of accountability. When they’re out in public and see these adults who see them, it kind of holds them to a standard. They realize ‘My community is watching me. My community expects good things from me.’”
The Beautiful Day Foundation’s program does not judge people by their backgrounds or economic status. That includes the students, volunteers, teachers and others who see the positive impact of these birthday parties.
“This is about every single person being celebrated the same,” Hays said. “Nobody is celebrated different. … it’s really just about equality and celebrating everyone. And for everyone to know that it doesn’t matter what you come from or what opportunities you have, you can do anything and your community believes in you and supports you.”
Myers, Central and Shedeck were selected to launch the Beautiful Day program in Yukon because “they are the most diverse schools”, she explained.
IDEA BORN FROM TRAGEDY
The Beautiful Day Foundation was started by two best friends who live in Duncan, Michelle Johnson and Leah Miller.
Johnson and Miller started in one Duncan elementary school and didn’t have a name for their program when they began.
The idea was born in 2012 after several tragic murders in Stephens County that rocked the local community.
The crimes had Johnson and Miller asking themselves, “What could we have done 10 years ago that would have changed the decisions that these kids made that were really ruthless?”
Shortly after the new school year started in August, Duncan officials notified parents by email one night that school would be on “lock down” the following day due to a threat. It was up to parents whether to send their children to school.
That next day really wasn’t a big one to too many people, but it was to Leah Miller’s young daughter. It was her birthday and she had asked her mom to come have lunch with her at school.
Miller, who didn’t want her daughter to know about the school being on lock down, sent the girl to kindergarten and received permission from the principal to come have lunch that day.
Miller brought lunch in, just a Happy Meal from McDonald’s. She sat down with her daughter at lunch and other students in the lunchroom were so excited to see the little girl being celebrated on her birthday.
Soon after, Miller called her best friend Johnson and asked, “What if this is what we do? What if we go in and have birthday parties for kids?”
“Kids love to be recognized,” Hays said. “They love the attention. They love birthdays and they love adults interacting with them.”
Because of the tragic killings, Duncan was all over the national news at the time.
Johnson and Miller e-mailed the school superintendent about their idea in the middle of this uproar, not really expecting a response for a while. But that night, the superintendent emailed back writing, in effect, “I love it … let’s make it happen.”
They began at the one school, bringing McDonalds’ Happy Meals for a monthly party for all students who had birthdays that month.
CALLING ALL VOLUNTEERS
The Beautiful Day program has spread to schools across Stephens County and has been in the Comanche County community of Elgin for the past two years.
Hays and her sister-in-law, Gracie Kroutil, have led the effort to bring Beautiful Day to Yukon.
They are enlisting volunteers to help present the Beautiful Day birthday luncheons at the three YPS schools starting this August. The goal is to expand to all Yukon elementary sites.
“This is our ‘trial’ year to see if the school likes it,” she said. “The schools and the teachers already have so much on their plates, so much that they’re doing. They’re doing a ‘beautiful day’ every single day with their kids.”
Beautiful Day volunteers take care of all the planning and presentation, so there’s no increased workload for school personnel.
“They can participate, but there’s nothing we’re asking of them,” Hays said. “We come in and we do it all. We clean it all up and do all the fund-raising. All they do is allow us to sit there and celebrate with their kids.”
Background checks are required for all Beautiful Day Foundation volunteers.
Besides seeking volunteers, Yukon’s new Beautiful Day chapter needs birthday party sponsors. About $26,000 must be raised for the 2019-20 school year to cover the cost of presenting the monthly celebrations at Shedeck, Myers and Central. A portion of the money is needed for background checks on volunteers and office duties.
Visit www.beautifuldayfoundation.net to view videos of the parties.
Anyone interested in volunteering or supporting the Beautiful Day birthday celebrations in Yukon should call Hays at (405) 474-7242 or Kroutil at (405) 822-0405.