We first heard about A Birthday Wish’s incredible mission to grant birthday wishes to foster care children around New Jersey on Instagram (it was a smiling selfie of founder Jane Hoffman picking up eight brand-new, hot pink bikes that got us). This inspiring non-profit organization has raised over $250,000 and granted over 3,500 birthday wishes to children in foster care since launching in 2014. NJMOM had the unique opportunity to meet up with Jane one sunny February morning at a local Target in East Windsor so we could turn the usual clicks of online donation into a real-life shopping trip for good. We chatted with her about how A Birthday Wish was conceived, her three daughters (one of whom is adopted), and her most unusual birthday wish request. We even brought along reinforcement – our Managing Editor Jamie’s three kids – to help Jane fulfill this month’s birthday wishes.
In between picking up Wish List items ranging from Barbies and Justice League figures to Hot Wheels and regulation footballs, Jane patiently explained to our littlest NJMOM helpers exactly who each toy would go to, the child’s name and age, and how this act of kindness is so important. Somehow, birthday wish list toys are the common denominator unifying kids from all backgrounds, because the boys understood on some level that they were doing a deed which would help kids in need celebrate their birthdays.
Getting to know an everyday hero, Jane Hoffman, who fosters joy through A Birthday Wish
We shouldn’t be surprised at how down-to-earth Jane is, given that she is the founder of an incredible organization that helps kids feel special on their birthdays (about 125 every month, just saying). Her energy is strong, consistent, and humble, and you can tell from the moment you meet her that she’s the type of woman who makes things happen – not always in-store, sometimes on Amazon, but always fulfilling the smallest and largest of birthday wishes for foster children in New Jersey.
One time recently, she had a 13-year-old boy who wished for a cello. He loved playing it at school but could not practice at home – so an incredible donor granted his wish.
“It was so wonderful to support his interest,” said Jane. “I hope it brought him joy and the knowledge that his talents are worth pursuing.”
We admire Jane for a plethora of reasons; her commitment to improving the foster care system in a unique way and her ability to make her dream a reality is unwavering. We had to know more – What sparked the idea for A A Birthday Wish? How does she teach compassion to young kids? And what are the surprising facts about foster care children? Read on to get inspired by Jane:
NJMOM: What inspired you to start A Birthday Wish?
Jane: In 2014 I was in downtown Westfield with my three daughters at a festival and stopped by a CASA of Union County table to get more information. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) advocates for children in the foster care in the court system. We discussed ways that my daughters and I could help children in foster care – holiday gifts, back to school etc. Finally, I asked about birthdays. They explained that for a variety of reasons children in foster care may not receive a gift on their special day. I couldn’t believe that kids in my community were not being celebrated. We immediately agreed to grant the birthday wishes of every child they served. That was about 180 kids at the time; three years later we have celebrated well over 1,000 children a year.
NJMOM: How has your personal experience in becoming an adoptive parent shaped the mission of A Birthday Wish?
Jane: Becoming an adoptive parent has literally shaped every aspect of my life. Traveling to the other side of the world to meet a child and pledging to love them is a big leap of faith. Children in foster care have experienced an immense amount of trauma in their short lives; they need to know that their hopes and dreams matter. With regards to A Birthday Wish, our mission is to grant the birthday wishes of children in New Jersey foster care and to let them know that the day they were born is a day to celebrate. We also work to raise awareness about the issues surrounding foster care and advocate for better ways to serve these wonderful children.
NJMOM: What is the Birthday Wish List process like?
Jane: Each month we receive wish lists from our partners in 12 New Jersey counties. Each list has the initials, age, gender, and exact birthday wish for each child. We post the wishes on our website. Donors can select a wish and either donate funds which we will use to purchase the gift, or they can purchase the gift themselves and mail it to our office. Gifts are wrapped at our monthly wrapping parties and a special birthday card accompanies each gift.
“We have donors from across the country and children are some of our best donors,” said Jane. “Each month children ask their birthday party guests to donate to A Birthday Wish in lieu of gifts. It’s a great way for children to share their birthday with a child in foster care.”
NJMOM: What’s one surprising fact about foster care that most people don’t know?
Jane: Foster care is full of surprising realities! There are approximately 8,000 children, teens and young adults in New Jersey foster care and about 400,000 nationally. Approximately 24,000 teens and young adults age-out of the foster care system in the United States every year. This means they will move into adult independent living without the emotional and financial support of a family. They face a very uncertain future with high rates of homelessness, substance abuse, unemployment, and incarceration. While in foster care, children will wait an average of three years to be adopted and 55% will have more than three placements in this time; many will change schools more than five times losing important relationships and falling behind academically.
Every one of these kids has talents, dreams, and ambitions. They are scarred by the trauma, but granting their birthday wish is just a small way of saying that good things happen in the world, that people care, and better days are ahead.
NJMOM: Is there any specific thing you tell your own kids about compassion and empathy?
Jane: I have three daughters ages 8, 9, and 10. We talk about kindness and compassion frequently. I don’t like to think of kindness as a transactional action but rather a state of being. For instance, you can go to a soup kitchen and give someone food which is great, but it just as important (or maybe even more important) to sit with the guests, share the meal, and offer support and friendship. Personal interaction with someone who is having a tough time can bring hope and healing.
I want my girls to feel empowered to change the world in big and small ways. We started A Birthday Wish together and they are a huge help but I tell them to follow their own passions and interest. They love reading books about people throughout history who have changed the world. A common theme is that regular people who choose to make a difference can do it; it may not be easy but if you believe and work hard, you can do it, too!
NJMOM: What has been your favorite birthday wish/child story ever fulfilled, and why?
Jane: One special wish was from a young woman who had just aged out of foster care. She had moved into her first apartment with literally one knife, one fork, and one spoon. Our donors at A Birthday Wish outfitted her kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom, they had a housewarming party for her. Hopefully, it made the transition a bit easier and was a reminder that just when you least expect it, good things can happen.
At the end of our shopping trip with Jane, we’d say we were left feeling pretty inspired and hopeful ourselves – it’s even got the 6-year old thinking about his next birthday and how he can help.
Here’s how you can get involved with A Birthday Wish:
- Grant a wish here. You can donate funds which the organization will use to purchase a gift, or you can purchase the gift and mail it to their office.
- Host a wrapping party.
- Your kids can ask their birthday party guests to donate to A Birthday Wish in lieu of receiving gifts.