By Laura McAlister
When Hope Dawson started planning her 13th birthday celebration, she decided this year she would have a non-traditional party.
Instead of a sleepover or dinner with friends, she hosted a party for some 300, and instead of gifts, she asked for compassion.
More specifically, she asked her guests to give to Compassion International, a nonprofit ministry that helps children living in poverty all over the world.
“All my friends were having sleepovers and the usual things like that,” said the Berry Middle School outgoing seventh grader. “I couldn’t think of what I wanted to do for my 13th birthday, and then I thought about Michel. My dad visited her in Honduras in 2009 and gave her a pack of stickers.
“He said it was like she won the lottery. That kind of set all this in motion.”
The Dawson family sponsors Michel through Compassion International. The 9-year-old Honduran girl happens to share Hope’s birthday – May 28. Though Michel doesn’t know it yet, Hope said this was her way of celebrating their birthday together while helping out children like her.
Dubbed the Birthday of Hope, the party was a success for all involved, said Scott, Hope’s dad and founder of Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association. They planned the party in about two weeks, and even though it was a short amount of time for such a big event, many stepped up to ensure its success.
“This time of the year is hard,” Scott said. “You’ve got graduations and Memorial Day, but when you have a child say she wants to do something like this, you just make it happen.”
The party was May 20 at Southeastern Bible College, which donated the space. Entertainment was provided by KJ-52, Jamie Grace and Rush of Fools. Speakers included Rick Burgess of the Rick and Bubba Show. Ryan Brown of 94.5 FM was the emcee, and David Nasser, pastor of Christ City Church, said a prayer.
Edgar’s Bakery provided birthday cake for all the guests. Scott said Dale’s restaurant also pitched in to sponsor the event.
Hope took the stage to encourage her guests to give, which was perhaps the hardest part of the party and planning for the now 13-year-old.
“I was really nervous,” she said, blushing at the thought of it. “I had a script and told them what Compassion is and about Michel.”
While some of Hope’s classmates were shocked their peer would give up presents on her birthday, Hope said they stepped up to support her cause. Even her 16-year-old brother Hunter and his friends helped, she said.
“I had friends who helped pass out invitations,” Hope said. “I did have one friend that said it was a very unusual idea. I told her I don’t live in a usual family.”
Through Scott’s ministry, the family is accustomed to giving and sharing their Christian faith. It was through this ministry that Hope came to know about Compassion International.
The organization helps children living in poverty by providing nutritional, educational and spiritual assistance. It costs $38 a month to sponsor one child.
“The kids who walk through this, it really changes their lives,” Scott said. “I think because of Hope’s party, we’ll be able to sponsor the rest of the kids in Michel’s circle.”
Hope set her goal high at $30,000 when she decided to host a fundraising birthday party. She came pretty close. As of May 21, she had raised close to $20,000, and more donations are expected to come in, said Tarra, Hope’s mother.
Tarra said the party was a great event. It was planned to last about two hours but was closer to three.
“It was great whether you were 50 or 15,” she said of the event. “I’m just thrilled as a parent to see her do something like this. Then you think about the time of year and pulling it off. Everything just came together.”
Hope said she has sent a letter to Michel to let her know about the party celebrating their birthdays, though the little girl hasn’t received it yet since letters have to be translated into Spanish.
As for future birthdays, Hope said she isn’t planning on having a Party of Hope every year, but maybe again for her sweet 16.
“I think it’d lose the effect if I did it every year,” she said.
Scott said the next logical step is for Hope and Michel to meet one day. Hope is on board with that.
“I would like to meet her,” she said. “I guess I need to learn to speak Spanish.”
For more information or to donate to Compassion International through the Birthday of Hope, visit birthdayofhope.com.