North Huntingdon nonprofit brightens birthdays for homeless children
An Irwin woman is on a mission to deliver birthday cheer — parties, cakes, candles and presents — to youngsters who otherwise wouldn't have anything to make them feel special.
Megan “Megs” Schreck Yunn spreads birthday cheer to homeless children, at-risk youths and families of newborns in shelters through Beverly's Birthdays, a nonprofit she founded in 2012 and operates from an office in North Huntingdon.
“I wanted to provide for children who otherwise would not have a birthday,” said Yunn, 31, the nonprofit's CEO.
Yunn connects with the children through partnerships forged with 54 social service-based agencies in southwestern Pennsylvania, including shelters, family centers, supportive housing programs, food banks and schools.
“I wanted to think about where could I meet these families,” Yunn said.
Yunn said Beverly's Birthdays — with four full-time employees and one part-timer — has grown into five programs over four years, each with a different mission, because “there are so many more families that are struggling that are not necessarily in a shelter.”
• Birthday Parties provides celebrations for groups on a monthly or seasonal basis.
• Itty Birthday Cheer is for newborns, often born to mothers in shelters.
• Classroom Cheer helps students whose families can't provide a child with a gift for a friend and provides kits to teachers at schools in low-income areas to celebrate birthdays in the classroom.
• Birthday in a Bag distributes pre-assembled bags filled with everything needed to host a small celebration — cake mix, frosting, plates and cups — that are distributed primarily through food bank programs.
“If you're getting food bank services, you can't get birthday plates and cups and all those extra things if you're worried about where your next meal is coming from,” Yunn said.
• The Birthday Presents program gives a child a “birthday cheer bin” of gender- and age-appropriate gifts worth about $40. Yunn expects to provide bins to more than 1,200 children this year.
Through the agency partnerships, the programs have provided 10,000 experiences for children, Yunn said.
Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania relies on Beverly's Birthdays to give celebrations for children living in Fresh Start transitional housing in Washington, said Marlene Day, transitional housing coordinator.
“Our kids really enjoy the parties. It makes them feel so special,” Day said.
At the Westmoreland County Food Bank in Delmont, Beverly's Birthdays has provided bags of goodies — “all the things needed for a good birthday party” — which are given to families who get help from food pantries, said Jennifer Miller, development director.
Yunn said the organization stays afloat through support from foundations and organizations.
Moe's Southwest Grill has a partnership the nonprofit that features a “Buy One, Give One” birthday party catering program. Every time a Pittsburgh-area family uses Moe's to cater a child's birthday party, their purchase will contribute to catering a Beverly's Birthdays party at no cost.
A partner in the franchise, Michael Geiger, said Beverly's Birthdays was selected because “it fit well with what we are about. It's a great organization.”
Yunn, a Bethel Park native, is a graduate of Marietta College with a degree in communications. She and her husband, Mike, have two sons, Wyatt, 3, and Lincoln, 1, and are expecting a daughter in July.
A turning point occurred when she was working in Pittsburgh for the federal service agency AmeriCorps.
“I had always been active in my community. My heart was vested in helping the very vulnerable population,” Yunn said.
The idea for Beverly's Birthdays arrived while Yunn was director of volunteer programs for Washington & Jefferson College. She was in charge of directing college students to service opportunities in the community when she met Beverly, an 11-year-old girl she was tutoring, in March 2011.
Yunn learned the girl never had a birthday party, or even a cake.
“It really inspired me,” said Yunn.
Three months later, Yunn entered Scholastic Inc.'s “The BE BIG in Your Community Contest,” part of the Clifford the Big Red Dog campaign, She took first place out of more than 1,000 entries and a $2,500 grant for her proposal to work with Pittsburgh-based agencies to provide at-risk youths with birthday celebrations.
Yunn was confident enough to leave her job in February 2012 and launch Beverly's Birthdays. The organization gained tax-exempt status in August 2012.
It grew from an office in a garage to a house. Two storage buildings hold hundreds of gifts and other items.
Other financial support comes from the public, the business community and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Yunn said the group has raised more than $700,000 in the past four years, about half of that from the public.
“We have created something families are connected to and want to give back. Every dollar we get goes out the door to the children we serve,” Yunn said.
She reconnected with Beverly two years ago and told her how her first name was linked to helping children.
“We like to think of it as her story helped to inspire 10,000 more children having a special day,” Yunn said. “If we can give those kids a positive moment in their lives ... we get to provide them with a day filled with hope and joy.”
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.