Getting To Know Julia Warren
“Everybody deserves a party.”
Serving as not only her non-profit slogan, but as her motto for life, Julia Warren has used those four words to bring joy to hundreds of kids in the Richmond area through her non-profit organization celebrate! RVA. Warren believes that “joy from something as simple as a birthday party can transform a child,” and when I sat down to talk with her, I began to understand just how much of a difference a birthday party can make.
A graduate of St. Catherine’s School (‘14), Warren spent her freshman and sophomore years at Randolph-Macon College and is currently taking classes at Virginia Commonwealth University, with a major in business and a minor in child psychology. She started celebrate! RVA as a sophomore in high school, stating that “she saw a need for celebration in the community” and has worked as the founder of the organization since then.
Warren says it all started with just one boy at Oak Grove-Bellemeade, a Richmond public school that serves a diverse population in the Bellemeade neighborhood of South Richmond. Already familiar with Oak Grove-Bellemeade through Collegiate’s tutoring program with the students, I was eager to hear about Warren’s relationship with the school. She was volunteering at Oak Grove through St. Catherine’s, and when she asked this boy when his birthday was, he replied “It was cold.” Warren took this to heart and began to wonder what Oak Grove did about birthdays and whether there was a celebration or not. She then talked to the principal of Oak Grove and asked what the school did on a child’s birthday. The reply was that each child is given a pencil on his/her birthday, and Warren felt the need to change this. Being so young, Warren felt lucky to have connections to the school to help make her ideas become a reality. She states that Bob Argabright, a devoted volunteer at Oak Grove, was essential to the start of celebrate!RVA, among others who saw the difference a party could make in a kid’s life. In March of 2012, Warren’s sophomore year of high school, she held her first birthday party for children at Oak Grove (of all ages) who had a birthday that month. Since then, Warren has watched her non-profit grow into something that the kids look forward to each week, hosting parties every month of the year for any child born in that month.
Today, Warren oversees celebrate’s volunteer management, marketing, financing, and, most importantly, she works on developing a plan for the future with help from her board of directors. Warren is very thankful for her board of directors (of which my father, financial advisor Jim Baber, is a member), saying that “nothing could be possible without their help and generosity.” When asked if finding volunteers is difficult, Warren replied that celebrate “rarely has a lack for volunteers.” They appreciate help from the University of Richmond’s and Randolph-Macon’s lacrosse teams, VCU’s soccer team, the Richmond Police Department, and they are working on partnerships with Randolph-Macon’s basketball team in the future. Warren also controls every social media outlet for celebrateRVA!, which she says is crucial to successful marketing of non-profits. She posts as often as she can on celebrate’s blog, and her own personal blog, “The Girl in the Party Hat,” although she says blogging is “harder than it looks,” requiring plenty of planning.
Celebrate! RVA holds roughly two parties each week for children at Oak Grove and then about four monthly parties for kids through the Salvation Army, ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation, Safe Harbor, and World Pediatric Project. Parties are thrown for children ages one through twenty-one. However, typically kids ages five to eleven come. When party time comes, Warren provides all supplies, including cake, candles, confetti, streamers, and tons of balloons. Parties are typically thrown at Oak-Grove inside a bare white room which, once transformed by the celebrate volunteers, becomes a perfect place for a party. Warren told me that a typical party runs from 3:30-4:45. The kids first play outside with the volunteers, where they get to know each other. They then come back inside and blow out their own candle, enjoy a piece of cake, and then leave with their own goodie bag and personalized card.
Warren has many goals for herself and her non-profit in the new year, including getting the parents of the kids more involved. Warren recognizes the importance of building lifelong relationships with as many of the kids as possible, including celebrating with them until they turn twenty-one. She also hopes to one day partner with all of the Richmond Title I schools (schools with poverty rates greater than 45%). Warren wants to make her parties even more personal for the kids, keeping in touch with the kids no matter where their future takes them, and even personalizing their goodie bags before the party.
A birthday party is such a small thing that we sometime take for granted, and Warren has re-emphasized the value of a celebration. My father states that she “has and continues to do amazing things and I am excited to be part of her journey.” Warren is so excited for the new year with the kids!
Photos courtesy of Steven and Lily Photography.