In Arizona, according to the Department of Child Safety (“DCS”) “Family Foster Home Care Rates and Fees Schedule”, the State provides foster families with a “Special Needs Allowance”. This allowance is “Available to assist foster parents with expenses such as holidays, birthdays and special occasions”. Isn’t it refreshing to know that families who make a commitment to provide safety and comfort to children in need can receive governmental support with something as important as celebrating a child’s birthday? Especially when these boys and girls have experienced disruption, trauma and abuse in their short lives?
There’s only one small problem with the State’s support – the total available PER YEAR is $22.50 per child! Hardly enough money to buy a single gift for a child’s birthday, much less add in Christmas, Hanukkah and other occasions of celebration. One Organization in Arizona has made it their mission to ensure that foster families have an opportunity to celebrate the birthday of every child in foster care. BIRTHDAY DREAMS is one of Arizona Helping Hands (“AHH”) programs which picks up where State support comes up short. Families can submit an application for a birthday package for a child in their care on the Organization’s website at With the assistance of generous donors and amazing volunteers, AHH will assemble a beautiful, personalized birthday package for little Johnny or Sophia to let them know their day is special and that they are worthy of celebration.
Dan Shufelt, President and CEO of AHH tells us that in 2016, the first full year of the program, AHH provided birthday packages to 920 children in foster care. “We meet children all the time who have never celebrated a birthday due to their circumstances. One child I met recently had his very first birthday celebration – at age 13, only because of our support! This is truly unacceptable to all of us at Arizona Helping Hands. We want every boy and girl in foster care to know that despite their circumstances, their birthday is a special day. We want them to know that people in our community care. Our volunteers select gifts based on the child’s age, sex and interests, and gift wrap those presents. Then, (the best part of our program) they will hand-decorate a plain white paper bag to say “Happy Birthday Billy”, “You go girl”, “Boys rock” or other messages of encouragement and support. We have parents who are overwhelmed by being able to make their foster child’s birthday a truly memorable occasion,” Shufelt tells us.
The program also has been opened up to DCS caseworkers to give them an opportunity to experience some true joy in their stressful and hectic work with children. Caseworkers can submit a request for a child in their caseload, and, instead of just “laying eyes” on the child, they can walk into the house for a totally positive interaction. Shufelt says that “Caseworkers tell us this is the best part of their work week. To be able to say to little Jose that the only reason I am here today is to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY, I came to CELEBRATE YOU! This is such a joy for caseworkers. This program also promotes a positive interaction and can open up very important lines of communication between caseworkers and children in foster care.”
Packages are lined up on tables in the Arizona Helping Hands warehouse awaiting pickup by families and caseworkers. This is one of many program services provided by AHH to help kids in foster care, but perhaps the most immediately rewarding. What better message is there than “You are important, and the people of our community care and support you”?
Individual volunteers, as well as business groups, church groups and others have donated their time and talent to prepare Birthday Dreams packages. To volunteer and help fill children’s BIRTHDAY DREAMS, visit
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