Giving is the gift
By Deb Silverthorn
The Vincent family knows how to celebrate birthdays — to relish their lives and to spend “their” day making the day better for others. When Shayna Vincent was pregnant with her first child, it came to her what that baby’s life meant and how she wanted to share all the blessings she felt with others who may be struggling. At that time, the Be Kind Birthday spirit was born.
“When I was a kid, I physically felt different each year on my birthday and an excitement and giddiness took over me. That feeling returns each time my daughters take the initiative to help others,” said Shayna, who is married to Devon and the mother of Mila and Avivah.
“We plan all year and when we hear of a new place, or of a group we can help, it makes the list,” said Shayna. “There are so many places and people who need help. It feels good to do whatever we can.”
In the months leading up to Mila’s birthday on Jan. 13, and Avivah’s on Sept. 9, they research organizations, programs and ideas for reaching out to others. Their giving has been organized around providing to nonprofit groups.
“The Vincents are an amazing family who inspire our Temple Shalom community every day. They show the Jewish values of tzedakah, acting righteously, and of pikuach nefesh, caring for the souls of those in need, in such amazingly powerful and beautiful ways,” said Temple Shalom’s Rabbi Andrew Paley. “They live these values and are truly the best example of what it means to be a mensch. Our community is lucky to have their spirit and we would do well to follow their beautiful example.”
The family have given books to Children’s Medical Center Dallas and visited fire and police departments with snacks. They gave blankets and newspapers to Operation Kindness, donated 10 copies of Nancy Churnin’s book “Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring”’ to the Oak Cliff Cultural Center and distributed cocoa, handwarmers and candy to construction workers with an inspirational poster.
On Feb. 14, Shayna’s friends hosted a Be Kind Birthday and the group created 22 flower bouquets for the women, and boxes of candy for the children, at Hope’s Door New Beginning Center, which provides intervention and prevention services for families affected by domestic violence.
“With many shelter ‘needs,’ I knew flowers and candy, while not ‘needed,’ would be special. The gift was mine,” said Shayna. “I love how my friends, family members and others who’ve heard about Be Kind Birthdays are doing them too.”
“It’s beautiful for a young family, for children, to want to help. Every donation is support and love and our clients are always grateful,” said Beth Leos, Hope’s Door Volunteer Program manager. Hope’s Door provides transitional housing, trauma support and other help to individuals and families escaping and healing, including those at its almost always at-capacity emergency shelter. “It’s lovely that Shayna’s friends celebrated her by thinking of oters.”
The family has donated snacks to Tango Tab Hunger, which feeds, educates and empowers communities; fun masks to the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County, which provides services to abused and neglected children; and candy and popcorn for movie night to Jonathan’s Place, which provides emergency shelter and in- and out-of-house therapeutic services to abused and neglected young children and teens.
“Making people happy is fun and good,” said Avivah. For her third birthday, she delivered her favorite dinosaur snacks to Jewish Family Service Food Pantry; gave birthday cake and supply kits to Minnie’s Food Pantry; and collected coffee grounds to the Giving Garden of Carrollton for compost.
For JFS, whose Food Pantry served 20,796 individuals and families last year, no one is too young to be hungry and no one is too young to help.
“Our future is bright with young children taking on the mitzvah of caring for others and when parents lead the way,” said Robin Raxlin Gormley, Jewish Family Service senior director of Special Programs and Hunger Relief. “It makes a huge difference when awareness, and care of others, begins at an early age.”
“I’m happy doing kind things for others so they can be happy too,” said Mila. For her fifth birthday, she left a poster, candy and handwarmers for the family’s city waste management team; handed out balloons to children at the pediatrician’s office; and donated puzzles to Sonoma House Assisted Living and Alzheimer’s Care.
“I like making people feel as special as I do,” said Mila, who goes to Kent Elementary. At school, she gave goodie bags to the custodial and cafeteria crews and handwarmers to teachers in the winter carpool line.
This year, when Mila turned seven, she delivered boxes with nail polish, stickers, Play-Doh, crafts, bath paint, a birthday crown and barrettes to Hope Supply Co., which meets the critical needs of homeless and at-risk children.
An Oklahoma City native, Shayna is the daughter of Johanna Luza and Tom Luza and sister of Daniel and Rocky. She was raised at Temple B’nai Israel and now belongs to Temple Shalom in Dallas. She graduated from Creekview High School, then the University of Texas at Arlington and Southern Methodist University, where she earned a master’s degree in alternative dispute resolution. She is the director of professional development at the Caruth Police Institute at University of North Texas Dallas, where she’s worked since 2010.
The wheels are already turning for Avivah’s next birthday and Mila’s eyes are open six months ahead of time. They too enjoy their own birthday cakes and presents but for them, the real present is gifting to others.
“I hope my daughters learn, understand and exemplify the power of kindness and that they continue to think of others even on the day that celebrates them,” said their mother, Shayna. “I have hopes and dreams for my daughters, but above all else, I hope they are kind. In a perfect world, those who see or are recipients of a Be Kind Birthday will be inspired to spread kindness themselves.”