The Challenge: About 15 million children in the United States today are living below the federal poverty threshold. They struggle to get clean clothes, healthy food, and emotional support.
The Solution: Celebrate U.
The Teen Who’s Making A Brighter Future: Talia Eskenazi of New York, NY.
Talia Eskenazi and her best friend, Chase Kauder, liked organizing birthday parties—for friends, friends of friends, parents of friends of friends, you name it. They also liked doing volunteer work for underserved schools and communities. One day they realized that there was a common theme to their efforts, and by organizing birthday parties for underprivileged kids, they could have a lot of fun and give back at the same time.
Celebrate U is now a thriving 501(c)(3) nonprofit working with local and national organizations to donate presents, food, music, and other party supplies and services. Celebrate U has raised more than $20,000 and planned more than 1,000 birthday parties with over 250 New York City student volunteers and a lot of big-name sponsors. Celebrate U hopes to keep celebrating and elevating children’s spirits nationally.
Last year, Talia was awarded a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam award for her hard work.We caught up with Talia in between classes to chat about Celebrate U…
Did you have birthday parties when you were a little kid? What’s your favorite memory of those parties?
Growing up, birthday parties, mine or my friends, were always a great time. I remember one year I didn’t want to have a big birthday party so a bunch of my friends and I went out for a nice dinner. What made this so special was when the cake came out and everyone was singing happy birthday to me and was waiting for me to blow out the candles. Even though it was not an over the top extravagant party, it is one I will never forget. This is the type of memory that I want to allow other children all around New York City and the world to enjoy.
What has your high school experience been like?
I attend a dual curriculum Jewish day school on the Upper West Side. That means I take eight or nine classes in one semester instead of four or five, half of which are in Hebrew and the others in English. Despite having double the amount of work and tests, I wouldn’t trade my education experience for anything. Having the ability to learn more about my Jewish ancestors and my nation’s history is an experience I would not have been offered at another school.
What’s your favorite subject and why?
My favorite subject is math because I enjoy how every question has one answer and nothing is left open ended.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned outside of the classroom?
You should always try your best to help other people. Meaning if you have the opportunity to make someone else’s day a little better, it is your obligation to do that.
How did you get the idea for Celebrate U?
A few years ago my best friend and I were throwing birthday parties for our parents’ friend’s children around the neighborhood. Unrelated to birthday party throwing, we visited a school in Harlem to donate books and art supplies and while we were there we saw how dilapidated the classrooms were and what limited supplies they had. We realized that our for-profit business would be better put to use as a non-profit charity.
What was that first Celebrate U birthday party like?
It was amazing and scary. We planned everything out, but we had never done it before. It ended up being amazing and we continue to grow and learn with each party.
How do you find the kids who need birthday parties?
We find local homeless shelters and domestic abuse shelters to partner with.
And how do you solicit birthday supplies?
We have so many amazing sponsors, including Magnolia Bakery, Treat House, Baked By Melissa, and many more who constantly donate supplies for our parties. We are so grateful for our partners.
What’s next for Celebrate U?
Both my co-founder and I are heading off to college next year, so what we hope to do is bring Celebrate U to local charities near our campuses. We also hope that people all over the country will take our basic formula for parties and bring it to homeless and domestic abuse shelters near them to spread the happiness.
How about you? After high school, any plans?
In terms of college, I am not sure yet. But I am thinking about taking a gap year in Israel. It is the perfect time to take a break from school and connect with the country and learn everything about it, including religion, language, and culture.
Anything else you’d like to say about Celebrate U or your Diller Teen Tikkun Olam award?
The best part about the Tikkun Olam awards for me was meeting all the other amazing kids who are making a difference. We spent an amazing weekend together in San Francisco and just after two days, I felt connected to each and every one of them. We shared a bond that many teens our age don’t understand. It was awesome seeing other students trying to make a difference just like me. No matter what age you are, you can always make a difference. I want to thank the Helen Diller Family Foundation (again) for all the amazing ways you provide us with continuing our tikkun olam throughout the country.
This post is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit www.dillerteenawards.or.