Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Caroline Wayer helps kids in need create birthday memories
WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- When families are trying to make ends meet, they're usually focused on the necessities. A high school senior in Waukesha wants to make sure all kids have something to celebrate, and she's helping them make birthday memories.
Last year, she started a local chapter of the nonprofit Box of Balloons. Since then, she's created multiple birthday parties in a box. This month, Wayer got help from her classmates at Catholic Memorial High School.
"Ok, let me know if you have any questions," she said, addressing the group of volunteers who gathered after school.
Wayer gave them a few quick instructions and then turned her classmates loose on the project.
"We can draw pumpkins and stuff, that works," she said to one group. "That's ok. It doesn't have to look perfect."
She wanted them to get creative, decorating some very important packages. Each of the three boxes they're making has a theme.
"So, this one is Halloween," Wayer said with excitement.
Inside each box is everything needed for a birthday party.
"A gift, a party activity, party favors, decorations," she explained.
Wayer was inspired to start a chapter of Box of Balloons in part by her own birthday memories from childhood. Photos show her celebrating with a princess party one year, and at a Shawn Mendes concert at State Fair Park another year. There are beautiful cakes and a bicycle.
"Personally, I've had great birthday memories, like all through my childhood growing up, and everybody needs that," she said.
But Wayer realized not everybody has that.
"They are amazed that it really is a birthday in a box," said social worker Mary Green.
Green is a social worker at Whittier Elementary. She's helped Wayer coordinate with families in need.
"I've had no one turn me down. No parents say no thank you," Green said.
Each child picks their birthday theme. This month, the boxes are "Glow in the Dark," "Doll," and "Halloween." There are party favor bags.
"We've got the socks and a Halloween pencil," Wayer said, showing what's in the bag.
And there are also party games.
"It is really fun. I've played it. It is so fun," Kate Pendowski said.
Pendowski explained the game she helped make.
"You have to unwrap as much saran wrap as you can with the candy and get as much candy as you can by unwrapping the saran wrap," she said, showing off a huge ball of saran wrap.
Everything in the box goes along with the child's vision.
"So, you're making pumpkins. You're making spiders," Wayer said, checking in on the students decorating the Halloween-themed box.
She may still be a teenager, but in a lot of ways, Wayer is wise.
"I think a lot of the time when you think about people in need, you don't think that some of those memories and fun stuff is also missing, rather than just the necessities," she said.
That's just one of the things she's learned in the past year. Running her own nonprofit has helped her grow, too.
"Even just connecting with the social worker at first is just hard to do when you're a teenager and you don't know someone," she admits.
Green said it's been great to work together.
"You would never know in her communication that she is a high school student," Green said. "She's organized and she's efficient and she remembers things."
Wayer started off small and grew over the year. She's completed 42 birthday boxes so far.
"I think the first month we started delivering them, we did two. And right now, for October, I think we have six boxes," she said.
The finished product shows pride and attention to detail.
"They will see their birthday box in the office. They are just amazed. Like, the surprise on their face, like that's for me? That has my name on it," Green said of the kids' reactions.
Wayer is a host who wants to throw the perfect party.
"For kids, it gives them a sense of pride and self-confidence that's really just essential to their childhood," she said.
For more information about Box of Balloons Waukesha, you can find them on Facebook at @BoBWaukesha.
If you'd like to nominate someone for Natalie's Everyday Heroes, send Natalie a message at NShepherd@cbs58.com.