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Beacon Hill business glow for Birthday Wishes

Posted by Johanna Kaiser  December 3, 2012 03:18 PM

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(Photo by Emily Mahlman)

Jack Gurnon, owner of Charles Street Supply, lights Luminary Kits outside his store Sunday.

Beacon Hill business owners lit up their storefronts Sunday to help make sure children living in homeless shelters could light the candles on their birthday cakes.

Neighborhood businesses up and down Charles Street placed candles in white bags around their storefronts to create glowing luminaries as part of a fundraiser for the local non-profit Birthday Wishes.

Birthday Wishes, based in Newton, works to throw birthday parties for homeless children living in shelters or transitional housing.

“These children’s lives are so traumatic,” Lisa Vasiloff, a co-founder of Birthday Wishes, said. “It’s dark and they pretty much live in fear, and so for them to have kind of unmitigated happiness and joy and attention even if it’s just for two hours--it actually does have an impact on their developing brains.”

Vasiloff and a friend came up with the idea to throw modest parties for homeless children in 2002 because, Vasiloff said, she was disappointed with the lack of volunteer opportunities for her sons, then seven and ten.

Now Birthday wishes serves more than 175 shelters and transitional living facilities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Long Island, New York and throws 14,000 parties a year with the help of volunteers.

The lights along Beacon Hill Sunday were part of the organization’s annual Luminary Night, an event designed to raise awareness and funds for the organization.

“It’s a way for neighborhoods to not only support our mission, but from the warmth of their homes to honor the families that are struggling right now in homeless shelters,” Vasiloff said.

Although the parties are modest and include just the simple birthday fixtures, every child at each shelter is invited and everyone leaves with a goodie bag. The number of children in attendance can range from five to 50 and the average cost of a party is $415, according to Vasiloff.

For Charles Street shop owners, adding luminaries to their storefronts was a way to help children and families and encourage their neighbors and customers to do the same.

“They are our future and we have to make sure we take care of them the best we can.” Rosie Berrios, manager of Twig, said Sunday after telling a customer about the organization. “

At Charles Street Supply, owner Jack Gurnon said he was eager to sell friends and customers their own luminary kits to help children celebrate their most special day.

“A kid’s birthday party is the most important day,” said Gurnon, who only recently found out about Birthday Wishes and its work, and plans to participate more next year.

“It’s a good thing; it’s a great thing,” he said.

Ali Ringenburg, owner of the newly opened Sloane Merrill Gallery, said she has been excited to participate in community events since opening in October, and the luminary display had already attracted passersby into the gallery where she could tell them more about the organization.

“There are a lot of people on Beacon Hill who really care,” she said.

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(Photo by Emily Mahlman)

Shoppers walk by luminary kits outside of The Red Wagon on Charles Street.

Kaiser can be reached at Johanna.yourtown@gmail.com. For more news about your city, town, neighborhood, or campus visit boston.com's Your Town homepage.

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