At the Union Rescue Mission in Downtown L.A., there is an island built on love. On this island, there are monthly birthday parties on the rooftop. There is a DJ named Boomer who stops playing his upbeat music and has kids and adults turn to one another and remind each other of this love by saying the words out loud: “I love you!”
The party guests are all homeless children and their parents, but for one night, they are just like every other boy and girl with friends and family making them feel special with cake, pizza, presents and games.
Mary Davis and her husband, Ari, founded Worthy of Love, the organization responsible for finding volunteers, money and talent to throw these parties. They met volunteering Downtown and married, but their first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. They decided to turn their misfortune into something positive by celebrating the lives of children whose circumstances wouldn’t otherwise allow it.
“These kids didn’t choose this,” says Mary. “They have to walk to school with officers holding their hands, having to see people smoking crack and doing drugs on the sidewalks.”
Mary says their first party included 15 kids and they were able to fit into a room inside the shelter. A boom box supplied the soundtrack to the festivities. Soon, the parties grew and they had to find a bigger space to accommodate all the children and their families. “The homeless population is growing,” Mary says.
Union Rescue Mission doesn’t turn anyone away. When they run out of beds, they put families in cots. Many residents, like Breyanah Crawford, pregnant with her second child, have jobs but can’t afford to pay rent. “I used to live with my mom until she got evicted,” says Crawford, who works as a medical assistant. “I had to stop taking overtime because my parents couldn’t pick my son up from school anymore.”
Her son, Ian, was celebrating his 4th birthday at a Worthy of Love party this summer amid actors dressed up as Star Wars characters, airbrush artists adorning shirts with children’s names, backpacks filled with school supplies and music and lights.
Companies donate many of the party supplies and volunteers bring things like pizza and cake. Each party costs about $4,000 for the 150 children who currently participate. Volunteer Stephanie Romagnoli says the parties are a transformative experience. “You’re having a bad day and you come here and you see the kids smile, some of whom have never experienced a birthday party before,” she says.
Toward the end of each party, Davis tells the children and adults to face one another and say, “You are worthy!” “We thought we would bring joy to the kids but they really brought joy to us,” she says. For more information or to make a donation, visit www.worthyoflove.net.