Hundreds of people gathered in Mohawk Park in Brantford to celebrate the return of the annual Unbirthday Party on Saturday, July 9.
The party, hosted by Friends 4 Kindness, celebrated kids and adults of all ages that have been missing connection.
“Now more than ever, people are missing that social connection,” organizer Nicole Callander said. “In the past, we’ve had about 90 percent of the time our attendees are individuals living with special needs and their families, but this year was different. We had such a variety this year, with remote learning kids and even kids in school that haven’t had a typical childhood throughout the pandemic.”
The Unbirthday Party started in 2018 after Callander went viral asking for birthday cards for her daughter Kaitlin who was feeling left out. Living with Williams Syndrome, Kaitlin wasn’t celebrating the same milestones as other kids her age, like graduation and prom, so her mom wanted to make her feel special.
“In January, I posted asking family and friends to mail birthday cards for Kaitlin’s birthday in July,” she said. “It went viral after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Hamilton and signed a card for her. We ended up receiving 6000 birthday cards from all around the world.”
From there, Callander said she received hundreds of messages from parents sharing stories about their kids being excluded from birthday celebrations.
“I could see the change that all of these cards were creating in Kaitlin so I decided that we would celebrate her 18th birthday at Mohawk Park with an Unbirthday Party for anybody that had never been to a birthday party before.”
Like the card project, the first Unbirthday Party also went viral and grew the next year with six parties across Ontario, from Ottawa to Brantford.
“We decided that there was a need, we saw that there were a lot of kids that were spending their birthdays alone, not just kids but adults as well,” Callander said. ”There were a lot of people that were really struggling with social connections so we decided to form Friends 4 Kindness to bring Unbirthday Parties to more people.”
Callander said that she hopes to continue to celebrate kids and adults all across Ontario through Friends 4 Kindness and thanked the community of Brantford for their ongoing support.
“Brantford has to be one of the most generous communities,” she said. “We are completely donation and volunteer based and the community really came together to make this happen. The Rotary Club sponsored the park rental and so many businesses gave money towards having princesses and superheroes attend and gave so many items for our loot bags. We couldn’t have done it without their support.”