Julie Ottaway Schmit
Clarence Center, N.Y.
Class of 1982
Major: Mass Communications
When talking about careers and hobbies, my husband made the comment that I can do anything – when it is something that I am passionate about.
My interpretation of this after 19 years of marriage? He may as well have said, “Wow, you do a terrible job at everything when your heart isn’t in it.”
He was onto something. When I am emotionally connected, there is no stopping me. And that is why I am thrilled to be starting a charity, The Birthday Squad of Buffalo, Inc. The concept is simple: Help homeless kids celebrate their birthdays. Make a world — if not the world — better. That definitely ignites passion in me.
I have held a lot of jobs, but none that I was passionate about until I started helping children with cancer. It was when I chose passion over money that I found myself to be very happy with how I was spending my time.
But that job was eventually interrupted by the birth (and consequent raising) of my own children. (Luckily, I am quite passionate about them, as well.)
Then last year, a friend who knew I was ready to do something new forwarded me an article about women having birthday parties in Boston for homeless kids. She said, “This sounds like you.”
Thanks to her, homeless kids in Buffalo, N.Y., have already had 12 monthly birthday parties. Every month we serve pizza, cake and ice cream to about 90 residents of a women and children’s shelter in Buffalo. We celebrate the birthdays that month of any children who are staying there. They get gifts (and they also get all giddy), the rest of the kids get goody bags, and there is always entertainment (clowns, magicians, entertainers, caricaturists, etc.) for everybody to enjoy.
It would be impossible not to feel passionate about these parties. The social workers report that the moms and their children look forward to them all month long, and talk about the fun they had for days after the parties.
One mother whose daughter turned 5 thanked me and said that she never could have done this for any of her three children otherwise. She floored me when she said that the previous year she was unable to even be with any of her children on their birthdays.