In 2003, when Fazana Saleem-Ismail was working as a Program Officer at the Robin Hood Foundation in New York City, she visited a soup kitchen as part of a site visit. She was told by its director that if a child came to eat there on his/her birthday that the staff would try to make him/her feel extra special by singing a rousing “Happy Birthday”. The thought of a child celebrating his/her birthday at a soup kitchen haunted Fazana for years to come.
Ever since that day, Fazana had been thinking of doing something unique for low-income children but wasn’t sure what to do. A few years later, she became a mom and started having themed birthday parties for her little girl on a tight budget but filled with love. After one party, Fazana’s daughter was so happy that she hugged the stack of child-sized plastic chairs to be returned to a rental company and declared that she had had a wonderful time on her special day. When Fazana witnessed this moment, she realized what she was destined to do: throw personalized birthday parties for homeless children!
When coming up with a name for her new endeavor, Fazana decided to incorporate the nicknames of her daughter and newborn son who inspired her to start the project. Hence, Jazzy Sun Birthdays was “born”!
Fazana reached out to St. Catherine’s Center for Children to see if they would be interested in her hosting birthday parties for the children living at the Marrilac Family Shelter. They were excited at the idea so with the help of generous friends who donated funds and friends of friends who donated cakes, Jazzy Sun Birthdays hosted its first party in May of 2011. Since then, we have celebrated the birthdays of over 300 children at five locations across the Capital District with the help of over 500 amazing volunteers!
Fazana passed away in June 2020, at the age of 47, after a brief but courageous battle with stomach cancer. She was proud that not only does Jazzy Sun Birthdays make homeless children feel like kings and queens for a day but it brings together people of different racial, ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds and helps young people who volunteer develop a working understanding and awareness of the issue of poverty. In keeping with Fazana’s legacy, her brother, Afsaan, and niece, Nihla, committed themselves to the continuation of Jazzy Sun Birthdays, and in September 2020, they assembled a volunteer Jazzy Sun Birthdays Advisory Board. The Advisory Board will assist Afsaan and Nihla in growing Fazana’s vision and ensuring that Jazzy Sun Birthdays continues to bring a ray of happiness into the lives of the families and children that we serve.