By SABAT ALI, age 9

Party-goers express their excitement for their friend’s birthday. PHOTO: David Goehring
Party-goers express their excitement for their friend’s birthday. PHOTO: David Goehring

Some nonprofits are helping homeless kids in a new way, looking beyond their basic needs for food and shelter to throw them birthday parties and provide other fun experiences.

More than 1.6 million children in the United States experience homelessness each year, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness. With so much attention being paid to their housing, clothes and nutritional needs, these kids have often missed the chance to enjoy childhood. Recently, a number of charity groups have tried to change that.

The Atlanta branch of the national nonprofit StandUp For Kids sponsors activities for homeless youth such as movies and picnics, and the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth in Minneapolis makes sure they have a place to stay for the holidays.

A group called The Birthday Party Project partners with shelters in places like Dallas, Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City. Kids at participating shelters get to celebrate their birthdays together with games, crafts, face painting, party hats, cake, presents and a fun theme.

A 12-year-old girl got her makeup done as a special treat for her birthday last November. Lara Gaither, executive director of the group, said, “Their reactions and excitement are very powerful.”

One child told ABC News: “I felt like a supermodel!”

“It might be in a shelter, but it was the best,” Micah Cooper, who celebrated his 11th birthday at a shelter in Dallas, told radio station WFAA.

So far, the group has hosted 1,350 birthdays for 11,500 kids with the help of 4,200 adult and child volunteers. “From board members to volunteers at parties,” said Gaither, “our birthday ‘enthusiasts’ are the heartbeat of what we do.”