Sheliza Kassam was 15 years-old when she won the2012 Leader of Tomorrow award at Volunteer Calgary’s Leadership Awards. Even at 15 Kassam was an impressive young woman who just wanted to help her community.
Almost a year after accepting the award, Kassam parlayed the connections she made at the Leadership Awards gala event into starting her own organization; Children’s Birthday Miracles or CBM for short. “I use all my connections from the Leadership Awards to help me with CBM. I got those organizations involved, and that really really helped a lot,” says Kassam.
Once a month, people from Children’s Birthday Miracles go into one of the Inn From the Cold community inns and put on a birthday party for all the kids ages 0-18. Kassam says that when she walked in, the kids were so excited they would rush her, especially when they realized she was bringing cotton candy and had both a magician and a face painter in tow. “This birthday party we had a magician AND a face painter, so everyone LOVED that! It was so nice of them to donate their time,” says Kassam.
For their second birthday party on March 15th they had a custom-made cake donated by Ana Cakes.
It was that birthday cake that provided the most poignant moment so far for Kassam and the other volunteers at CBM.
“There was an adult whose birthday fell in March and she picked up the candle right after the kids blew them out and she said ‘all I wish for is a home,’” recalled Kassam. “For all of us to hear that was amazing; it made a huge difference on all our lives.”
Kassam and her ambassadors found Ana Cakes owner/operator Amanda Rangel, on Kijiji and contacted her about possibly donating a cake for a party, Rangel felt compelled to say yes. “It seemed like a really cool organization,” says Rangel. “It is just a really sweet thing they are doing for these kids and their families, I couldn’t say no.”
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the creation of CBM is that Kassam had no desire to begin an organization, the inspiration just came to her one morning.
“At 3am on January 3rd to be exact. I was thinking: what should I do to make a difference? I really thought that it’s important that I do something amazing for my 16th, because not everyone gets to celebrate their 16th birthday like I do,” Kassam remembers.
The idea of having birthday parties for children that might not normally get one came to Kassam, and with the help of Devon Laughlin, volunteer manager at Inn From the Cold, the Children’s Birthday Miracles organization was born.
While Kassam and Laughlin seemed to get the initial idea off the ground, CBM wouldn’t be possible without the help of many organizations like: Youth Central, Junior Achievement, CBI Home Health, and many more.
Kassam continues to look for opportunities to strengthen her fledgling organization. CBM has recently partnered with Sir Winston Churchill, Henry Wisewood and Western Canada high schools to expand their reach and inspire students who may not already be volunteering, to jump in and get started.
“With a lot of organizations, especially national organizations, you can’t really SEE the impact you are making,” says Kassam. “At CBM it’s one-on-one, I can see every single birthday girl or boy that is feeling the difference in their life, it’s nice to see the direct impact.”
Looking back to the Leadership Awards, Kassam was honoured by winning the Leader of Tomorrow award, and at the same time felt grateful that her volunteer efforts and the organizations she helped out were being recognized. But for Kassam, the best part of winning the Leader of Tomorrow award is inspiring her peers with her story.
“The Leader of Tomorrow award was placed in my school right after we won it, so people approach me and ask, ‘why did you win this award?’” explains Kassam, who was so delighted you could almost hear her smiling through the phone. “So I tell them the things I do and then all of a sudden even though they don’t volunteer, they want to get involved.”