Three years ago, Indian American teenager Tanvi Barman — at 17 a veteran volunteer — discovered a solvable micro-issue in her own San Francisco Silicon Valley backyard.
Barman, a senior at Basis Independent Silicon Valley High School who dreams of being a pediatrician, was volunteering at a temporary housing shelter for low-income people. While playing with the kids at the shelter, Barman, then in the 8th grade, talked about her upcoming birthday party. She then learned that several of the children did not know when their birthday was, and — moreover — had never experienced a birthday party for themselves.
“My birthday is always my favorite day of the year,” Barman told India-West. “But many kids in shelters, whose parents might be unemployed and who get moved around every couple of months, do not know what a birthday party is.”
In 2016, the entrepreneurial teen, who has been volunteering with various organizations since the age of 7, founded No Birthday Left Behind, a non-profit organization aiming to host a birthday party for all low-income kids in San Francisco’s Silicon Valley.
“Homeless children are raised in an environment of insecurity and instability, where parent(s) are struggling to make their ends meet and their priority is only centered on fulfilling basic needs,” said Barman in an introduction on the organization’s Web site: nobirthdayleftbehind.com. “Celebrating their child’s birthday is a luxury they cannot afford. Lack of special birthday celebrations for these underprivileged children leads to further homelessness and uncertainty for them as they are deprived of the normal upbringing every child deserves,” she wrote.
Barman currently works with five homeless shelters in Fremont, Willow Glen, Hayward, and San Jose. Each month, the teen calls the shelters to find out how many kids there are having a birthday that month. She then gets a cake — usually donated by Nothing Bundt Cakes or Suzie’s Cakes. Barman is also helped along by another non-profit organization, Cake4Kids — cake4kids.org — which bakes and delivers cakes to under-served children living in shelters.
Each birthday child receives a present for themselves, and goodie bags to hand out to the children who come to celebrate their special day. The parties also feature an art project or games, and, occasionally, entertainers such as a magician.
“We play with the children, and have a good time,” said Barman. She recalled that, after one party, a little girl jumped into her arms and said “please don’t go. Play with me for a little while longer.”
“They trust me so quickly,” said Barman.
“A birthday party is a whole experience. It’s not just a piece of cake. It’s not just a present. It’s a whole thing,” Barman told NBC News Bay Area, in a recent feature story. The young teen had just a handful of volunteers before the story ran, but said that after the story ran, she has received thousands of emails from people who want to help, including bubble-makers, balloon artists, clowns, and Girl Scout troops who want to volunteer.
Barman said she wants to scale up the program through local high schools, and create a model that can be replicated when she goes off to college. She also wants to serve more children, including those in foster care facilities, and orphanages.
Barman has received several awards for her work, including: The President’s Volunteer Service Award (gold), The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, and most recently, the 25th State Assembly District’s 2019 Community Hero award from California state Assemblyman Kansen Chu.
“It’s hard for me to see the environment some kids live in,” Barman told India-West. “My friends, our childhood, we don’t appreciate what we get so easily, and what our parents are willing to give us.”
“These kids — they get so much joy out of a simple party,” she said.