Today, we paid for a student in Uganda to go to college with a $5 Starbucks card.
I had the honor to speak at the Living Room Event with Bob Goff today, to share a little bit about The Birthday Project and how Bob and some of his very cool friends inspired me to pursue this passion to create a shift in the way people celebrate their birthdays. When I finished talking, the attendees were divided into groups of five or six, handed $5, and challenged to use the money to bless someone in whatever way they wanted. When everyone returned thirty minutes later, they were asked to share their experience. The ideas were so creative.
Another group used their money to barter for bigger and better items until they ended up with bottled drinks, gift cards and art supplies, all of which were given away to kids, adults, men and women in uniform and a teacher.
Some people bought popsicles to hand out on the playground.
As we all marveled at the creativity used to stretch $5, we also listened as people shared the responses of the recipients. Surprise, gratitude, rejection...it was all there.
At one point, a group stood up to say they bought a Starbucks gift card and gave it away, only to end up with another gift card after passing by a table set up by an organization handing them out in return for taking a short survey. The group had run out of time to give the second card to anyone so they decided to auction it off to those of us in the audience. At first everyone laughed, but then they suggested we could donate whatever money we raised to Launch, a program we had just heard about that sponsors young people in Uganda so that they can attend University for only $700.
Immediately someone raised their hand and said "I'll give you $10 for it".
Then someone else said, "I'll give you $20."
Suddenly a man shouted out, "FIFTY!".
We all just dropped silent. What was happening?
The lady next to me, had opened up her wallet and announced in her precious Alabama accent, "Alright, listen y'all. I've got $7 cash in my wallet and I'm gonna need something to tip the guy at the airport, but I'll add my money to the last bidder!".
The room became a chorus of laughter and ideas. It got loud and exciting. Someone suggested we bid by the rows we were sitting in. There was money all over the place. (I'm not even slightly exaggerating here, guys.)
The man up front, still holding the Starbucks gift card in the air said, "I say we just take up a collection. We may be about to have church in here!". He pointed to a small basket near the doughnut table in the back of the room that I think was holding forks or napkins and somebody started passing it around. If it's possible to physically feel excitement, it was thick in that room. I looked at the team hosting the event and they were just in shock, staring at each other, tears and laughter and "WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON?" all at once.
Even as I type this post, I'm still in awe of what I witnessed this afternoon. To be a part of something so sweet and simple and generous, I just don't know if I'll ever be able to accurately describe it but I know I'll never forget it.
As we closed the afternoon, I challenged the group to one thing: "Every day, 19 million people have a birthday. Imagine if we decided to celebrate our lives and the lives of our loved ones like we did today. I challenge you to find a more fun, exciting, sweet, meaningful way to celebrate the yourself and your children's birthdays than by making a difference in the lives of others. Start with $5. You may just change someone's life."