Little Boy Gets a Birthday Party in a Red Cross Shelter

Volunteers, School Workers and Neighbors Help a Family in Crisis

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Jailen Allen celebrated his third birthday Wednesday evening in a Red Cross shelter in Burgaw. It was his family’s fifth night at the shelter.

Still, it was a festive occasion.

Jailen and his family took refuge inside the shelter at Burgaw Middle School on Saturday, when their home was destroyed by a tree during the height of Hurricane Matthew’s fury. Since then, the family has been searching for new housing during the day, and spending the night at the shelter.

When members of the community heard that a little boy was going to spend his birthday in a shelter, they decided to plan a party for him. Sean and Heather Sheehan of Hampstead contacted friends and family, who gathered, wrapped and delivered new toys for young Jailen to open on his birthday.

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The Sheehan family, with family friend Catherine Hedge, far left, and Domino’s Pizza workers William Baker and Daniel Nutley, back right

“This is near and dear to my heart,” Heather said, in explaining why she went so far to bring joy to a little boy she didn’t even know.  “We both worked for the airlines before 9-11.  When we lost our jobs, everyone pitched in to help us out.  I swore then we would pay it forward.”

The Sheehan family also brought Jailen a cake, and arranged to have Domino’s provide free pizza to all the residents in the shelter.  And before Jailen and his family arrived, the Sheehans departed.

“We don’t want it to be about us,” said Heather. “It’s about him.”

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Capturing the party: Red Cross volunteer Monica Palase, Pemder County Heath Educator Elizabeth Almekinder and Montrina Dudley

When Jailen and his family entered the school cafeteria-turned-shelter at suppertime, other shelter residents, school workers and Red Cross volunteers welcomed him by singing “Happy Birthday,” and judging by Jailen’s reaction, it was.

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You can experience gratifying moments like this by becoming a Red Cross volunteer.  Log onto redcross.org/volunteer to begin the application process.

Photo credit: Jim McIntyre/American Red Cross

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