Meet young entrepreneur Julia Warren, who brings birthday joy to kids living in poverty. She started nonprofit Celebrate! RVA, which throws volunteer-staffed birthday parties in the Richmond, Va., area, when she was just a high school student.
Julia Through the infrastructure of poverty in Richmond, these children, they’re not all going to be in the same place. They’re not all going to be at the homeless shelter. They’re going to be all around Richmond and we need to go where they are in order to serve them best.
TEXT Julia Warren – Founder + CEO – Celebrate! RVA - Richmond, Va., USA
Julia At Celebrate! RVA we aim to give disadvantaged children a memorable birthday celebration in a safe and fun environment. So many of our underprivileged children are so concerned with where their next meal’s coming from, where they’re going to sleep that evening, that just having an hour and a half of joy can be something that they remember and that they cherish.
TEXT Julia was born and raised in Richmond, Va.
Julia I was very privileged growing up. I went to a private all-girls school here in town. I grew up with a wonderful family. And I’ve always just had this huge passion for kids, and I just loved being around them and feeling their energy.
TEXT In 2013 when Julia was a teenager, she volunteered at a local public school.
Julia I was tutoring these children and just asked a child, you know, “How old are you? When is your birthday? What’d you do?” He just looked up at me and said, “I think I was born when it was cold outside.” And that was all he could tell me.
Julia It stunned me so much. You know, growing up, my birthdays were so special. It took me a while to understand how something that I had taken for granted for so long was something this child had never had.
TEXT Julia tried to find an organization that offered birthday parties for under-privileged children.
TEXT When she found none, she asked the school if she could hold birthday parties once a month for all the pupils.
Julia The first party was really kind of financed out of my pocket. I just went to the Dollar Tree, went to Target. We just kind of went in with a lot of confetti, a lot of balloons, a lot of cake and it was immediate, just the joy, and love, and happiness in that room. Everyone could feel it and I knew that this was not going to be the only birthday party.
TEXT Julia recruited volunteers from local college sports teams to staff the party.
Julia Pretty quickly volunteers became donors because they saw the impact that they were making. The community found out about us, restaurants at first found out about us. We just slowly but surely started growing.
TEXT Julia was only 17 and too young to have a legal business.
TEXT Family and close friends advised her.
Julia Definitely the biggest hurdle that I faced was my age. People saw me and thought this was a nice little school project, that it was something nice for my college resume and that was it. On my 18th birthday I actually spent it in my lawyer’s office signing all the paperwork because it was my first legal signature.
TEXT In 2014 Julia started studying at Randolph-Macon College but she left 2 years later to work full time on Celebrate! RVA.
Julia There are a lot of logistics that go into any birthday party when you’re working with any children that aren’t yours. Making sure that we have all the same children at all the same time, a lot of counting, head counting goes into that.
TEXT Parties cost an average of $300 to $400.
SOT That is beautiful! Would you like to see?
TEXT Celebrate! RVA has held 1,600 parties at schools, hospitals, homeless shelters and the Richmond City jail.
Julia At the jail birthday parties take on different themes but they’re all mothers and their children. My time working in the jail has really been shaped by the fact that all of those inmates are just people. And when you talk to them and get to know them they’re human just like us. So it’s a very humbling experience to work in that space.
SOT It’s somebody’s birthday. Happy, happy birthday to you.
TEXT Julia is planning to go back to college to study business and child psychology.
TEXT She will continue to run Celebrate! RVA.
Julia For the past four years I’ve been a volunteer Executive Director so next year I will be fully funded in our budget, which is exciting. I’m at a point now where people say, “Okay. She’s not doing this just for a school project anymore. She’s really doing this because she loves it, because she’s able to do it.”
Posted: October 17, 2017