What do you do when a second grader tells you he doesn’t know his birthday? Or when that same little boy says he doesn’t even know what a birthday is?
Julia Warren was only 16-years-old when she had this heartbreaking conversation as a volunteer at a Title I elementary school in Richmond, Virginia. After she explained to the student, a little boy named Charles, what a birthday was, all he could muster for an answer was, “I think I was born when it was cold.”
“I couldn’t grasp how a child couldn’t know that,” Julia said. Coming from a family where birthdays were always a special event to be celebrated, she didn’t know what to do – but she knew she had to do something.
She went to the school’s principal to tell her what happened and ask for the school to do something for the child’s birthday. “When we have time, we’ll give them a pencil,” the school responded. She was shocked.
Six years later, now 22 years old, Julia is the executive director of celebrate! RVA, the nonprofit she founded to make sure disadvantaged children in Richmond are given a birthday party that makes them feel happy and special, no matter their circumstances.
Thanks to celebrate! RVA, more than 2,000 birthdays have been celebrated – some at Oak Grove Bellemeade Elementary, where her dream began, and some at other agencies in her community. From homeless shelters to children the pediatric oncology unit, celebrate! RVA has grown its mission to bring joy to children who need it most.
Halfway through her undergraduate double-major in business and economics at Randolph-Macon College, Julia met with a financial planner who could clearly see her passion for bringing love and joy to underserved children. She posed a critical question, “How important is it to you to finish college in four years?” Julia was already struggling to be a full-time student, an executive director and work multiple part-time jobs. Then she made a decision to put school on hold so she could focus on growing the impact of celebrate! RVA.
Julia has resumed her collegiate studies, this time at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she’ll double major in nonprofit management and business, and double minor in social work and child psychology.
Despite these transitions, Julia laughs at the concept of being an overachiever. She said wasn’t at all motivated in high school; she made good grades, but wasn’t really passionate about anything until that life – changing interaction with Charles.
After navigating through a difficult season of life, Julia sought help from a therapist. It was through therapy that she discovered that she’d been struggling with depression and anxiety, and had never been able to put a name to it until then. Behind those birthday parties, there was a broken person.
Having struggled with similar feelings, Julia recognizes that living in poverty can cause depression in children and she knows just how much they need joy and love. Providing that to them through birthday parties is all the motivation she needs.