Rhode Island event planner Stephanie Frazier Grimm makes a living by helping her clients feel special on their big days. But she recently discovered it's the parties she throws for free that bring her the most joy.
In the summer of 2010, Grimm's best friend gave birth to her son Christian eight weeks early, leading to multiple health complications for the baby. Grimm's friend drove to her hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit every day to visit Christian as he grew stronger, and she called Grimm to chat each time she hit the road.
"On one of her drives, she was telling me how it was one of Christian's suitemate's first birthday,” Grimm told The Huffington Post. "He had been there for a year, and she couldn't wait to celebrate his birthday." The parents of all the children in the unit would be involved, but the celebration was to be a modest affair, as most hospital birthdays are -- they wouldn't be able to do much more than sing a song before turning their attention back to their children's medical conditions.
Upon hearing this, Grimm flashed back to her 13th birthday, which she spent in a hospital bed being treated for kidney disease. She remembered how upset she was that only one friend came to visit her that day -- it didn't feel like much of a birthday at all. In that moment, she decided to help prevent other children from feeling that disappointment. They may be sick, Grimm reasoned, but they deserve a 30-minute distraction that celebrates their life. And their families deserve it too.
Three and a half years later, Grimm officially transformed this resolution into the Confetti Foundation, a charitable organization that supplies birthday party starter kits to children who are spending their birthdays in hospital rooms. Each customized party box comes with a variety of party supplies and decorations for four people -- enough for the child and the three visitors allowed in the room at the same time.
"All they have to do is add cake," said Grimm.
She delivered the first set of gift boxes to Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, R.I, in January of this year, and has watched her labor of love reach children and hospitals in an additional 15 states in the two months since.
Grimm credits her eager volunteer community with bringing such quick success to her passion project, saying she couldn't believe the support she received from her social media following.
"The minute I put it out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that I was starting this and needed volunteers around the country, I was inundated with help," she said. "It brings me to tears how it's becoming what I wanted, a community."
After expressing an interest in joining the cause, the volunteers, known as "birthday fairies" and "birthday heroes," approach their local children's hospitals and explain the project. Once they establish a partnership, Grimm sends party kits to her volunteers, who in turn deliver them to the hospitals' Child Life Services departments. In order to maintain the anonymous nature of the program and honor patient privacy regulations, volunteers do not meet or interact with the children themselves. Instead, they maintain relationships with the hospital staff, making sure every child receives the celebration they deserve.
"Ethnicity, family income, none of that matters to us," said Grimm. "We just want to give a birthday party to every kid."
Grimm often refers to the "we" behind the project. Nationwide volunteers aside, the Confetti Foundation has been a family affair from the beginning. With her husband as treasurer, her mother as secretary and her two kids as members of the advisory board, Grimm doesn't just talk about the importance of including family, friends and children -- she lives it.
Twice a month, Grimm hosts a packing party in her event planning studio, where everyone who can help gathers to create the birthday party kits before sending them off throughout the country. Between visiting hospitals and building the kits, volunteers have a chance to connect much more intimately with their charitable action than they'd get by, say, making a simple cash donation.
"They're learning about giving by being a part of it," Grimm said of her volunteers. "And they're sharing it with their kids."
While her 501(c)(3) approval is still pending, Grimm looks forward to the day when she can apply for grants to fund the creation of even more party kits for kids across the country. By the end of the year, she hopes to maintain relationships with hospitals in all 50 states and send 500 boxes to children in need of a little cheerful distraction.
Looking back on the experience thus far, Grimm says the Confetti Foundation has made her more optimistic than ever before.
"I’m a very positive person," she said, "but they're just such innocent people, such innocent kids, and being able to give them a birthday party when they're not expecting it or asking for it is just so humbling to me."