I had a lot of heavy, personal and professional stuff on my mind—and in my heart—the day I served at the shelter.

I needed to get from Columbia, Maryland to DC by 6 p.m., which is prime rush hour. The non-stop rain and general dreariness didn’t help, either.

My day was so busy—and my mind so burdened—that I had just enough time to put dinner in a bowl and eat on the road. (I figured I’d be sitting in traffic, so I might as well. As I sat there in the traffic, I continued to mull over my worries.

At some point, I stopped and said aloud to myself: “It’s time to focus on someone else. You are about to go to a homeless shelter to be with a couple of little girls who are actually living in a shelter and about to celebrate being special! Your life is so blessed and you need to pull it together for these kids. By the grace of God this could have been me or my children!”

The birthday girls’ party themes included “music” for the 9-year-old and “Dory” for the 3-year-old.

Once I arrived, I anxiously waited for the arrival of the kids—wanting to do my best to make sure they had a real party experience (even though I’m not usually the little-kid-party girl).

I tell you: the smiles on those children’s faces when they were coming through the door were beyond what I can describe—especially the birthday girl’s face. I wanted to scoop them all up and take them home with me.

When I looked at the 9-year-old—who maintained a big smile on her face the entire time—I saw myself at that age. When I looked at the beautiful little 3-year-old celebrating her birthday, I thought about my daughter, who is now about to leave for college.

One child came bouncing into the building and said “the birthday party is here!”

Their eyes were flying all around the room, taking it all in.

The 3-year-old came entered with her party crew. “This is MY party!” she announced. But it wasn’t a question.

The squeals and laughter were non-stop. The photographer followed them around the room with his long lens as if he were the paparazzi.

I've personally helped a good friend who has a children's party event business. The shelter celebration felt 100% the same as any other party. There was so much joy and fun packed into one hour. It's amazing—from the games, prizes (Big prizes!), food, crafts, pictures, to the happy birthday songs, soul-train dance lines, cake, goodie bags, gifts, and piñata. Again, it's UNBELIEVABLE that can be done in one hour. Another bonus: almost every kid put fruit and veggies on their plates and did not waste it.

When the 9-year-old opened all of her gifts, I heard her say "thank you." When I looked up, she was looking back at me. “Oh no! not me," I said. "This is from your momma." Her face lit up. She went right over to her mother, gave her a big hug, and said thank you. OK, put a fork in me, I thought. I’m done.

I’m not really a lead-the-kiddie-game kind of person. Yet, in that short span of time, I forgot all about my life, my issues, the drama of the day, the rainy ride home that awaited me. Instead, I felt transformed. Their smiles made me smile. My heart was full and I believe those birthday girls felt the same big love. They had ALL experienced a bona fide birthday celebration and went home with way more than goodie bags.

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Read more about EOB Board Member Debbi Reid here. Want to help make more EOB party magic? Grab tickets to our 10/29 #Hope4Kids Costume Party fundraiser, hosted by American University.

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