Sunday, February 20, 2011

Group Turns Birthday Dreams Into Reality

Group Turns Birthday Dreams Into Reality

By Jess Nabakowski

Candle Wishes Organization, a faith-based, non-profit organization which started in 2002 in the Murfreesboro, Tenn. area, has brought to reality the birthday dreams of thousands of underprivileged children. In 2010, Candle Wishes made its debut in Memphis, Tenn., with hopes of reaching more children and making more wishes come true.

Jenny Williams, from Murfreesboro, Tenn., is the founder and executive director of Candle Wishes. She wanted to do something for her local community that would benefit everyone involved and give back to the community.

 “Through Candles Wishes, children learn that there are caring people in the world. When hundreds of families and children experience that kind of changed attitudes, a community becomes a better place to live,” Williams said.

Williams got the idea from the Salvation Army Angel Tree program. She used the same list of families for Candle Wishes, and started doing “birthday parties” at a pick-up drive for families on that list. Families would come pick up the presents in black bags. “As the amount of donors and sponsored children grew, they started doing actual parties with wrapped presents,” Williams said. Volunteers, sponsors, and donors from the local community make candle Wishes possible. It is very hands on, and allows the donor or volunteer to be involved throughout the whole process.

Although Candle Wishes brings birthday dreams to life, they also provide the children with essential need such as clothes and shoes. Now, kids in Memphis will get to experience the blessing of Candle Wishes.

Melissa Shaeffer, director of the Memphis branch, read about Candle Wishes in Thread magazine, and wanted to bring it to Memphis. That was in 2009, and after a year of meetings and planning, Candle Wishes Memphis held its first party in January of 2010. The parties are at different community groups, such as churches and civic clubs.

Because Memphis’ Salvation Army list has approximately 2,000 families, at this point it is just not possible for Candle Wishes Memphis to provide for all of them. The goal of Candle Wishes Memphis is “12 different parties, 12 different months, 12 different communities, but it all depends on the community,” Shaeffer said. Kids are sponsored solely by donations and monthly sponsors, so without the community, Candle Wishes is not possible.

Jessica Campbell, 23, a Candle Wishes sponsor, turned her sponsorship into a bonding experience with her own daughter, Zoe. “We shop together for the presents. It’s a fun experience for us,” Campbell said. “I chose to sponsor a child because we take something as simple as birthday gifts for granted, and I wanted to be a part of giving a little girl her special day.”

Right now, Shaeffer gets a list of children in need from schools and churches in the Memphis area including: Galloway Baptist Church in Galloway, Tenn., Hawkins Mill Elementary, and a couple others in the area. Because the organization is so new to the area, she and other volunteers are still working to get the word out.

“We’re looking into possibly sponsoring children of different children’s homes in the area, children of jailed parents, and other organizations that support underprivileged children. Candle Wishes is still growing here. We’re trying different things,” Shaeffer said.

The benefits of Candles Wishes are not just for the children. Donors and sponsors get to participate in a ministry where they can see first-hand the results of their giving. They can come to the parties, they can see the children open their presents, play games with them, and celebrate with them. It is a very hands-on ministry, and that is what makes Candle Wishes unique.

Candles Wishes brings birthday joy and fulfillment that many underprivileged children do not know otherwise. It also brings joy and fulfillment to those who sponsor, donate, and volunteer. “The future of this organization rests in the hands of the community. It’s a great opportunity, and the goal is reachable. We just need to get the word out; get support,” said Campbell.

The next Candle Wishes party will be at Christ Church in Bartlett, Tenn. on Feb. 26. To find out more information on the organization, or how to become a sponsor, donor, or volunteer, check out the Candle Wishes website or facebook page.