Fresh-baked cupcakes, jars of vanilla frosting, and containers of purple, green, pink and multicolored sprinkles covered the kitchen island in Sylvia Ades’ Port Washington home on a recent Friday afternoon.
There, about a dozen teens, all volunteers for Celebrate U Port Washington and students at Paul D. Schreiber Senior High School, fluttered with activity, putting finishing touches on dozens of cupcakes for a party they would host the next day at Springfield Family Residence, a Salvation Army shelter in Jamaica, Queens.
The party was one of six that Ades, 17, and Elijah Ross, 16, have organized since 2018 through the Port Washington chapter of Celebrate U, a foundation that provides group birthday parties for disadvantaged children.
The pair learned about the organization through it founder, Chase Kauder, whom they met through summer camp in Maine. Kauder co-founded Celebrate U in 2014 while attending Horace Mann School in Manhattan.
Serving children closer to home
Ades and Ross volunteered at a few Celebrate U parties in Manhattan -- and soon realized they could serve children closer to home by creating a Long Island chapter.
“Plus we have a lot of friends who can help out,” Ross says.
Since last May, with the support of friends and donations of party favors from J&L Confetti Corp. in Farmingdale, they’ve run one to two parties each season. The parties include games like “Simon Says” and freeze dance, arts-and-crafts projects, goody bags, cupcakes and singing “Happy Birthday.”
The Port Washington contingent typically comprises 15 to 20 girls and six to seven boys. The March party also included members of the Nassau Community College football team.
With advice and help from the city chapter of Celebrate U, Ades and Ross established the Port Washington offshoot, though they initially had difficulty recruiting volunteers, Ades says.
“[Eli and I] attended multiple parties to ensure our understanding of what exactly the parties would entail," she says.
Sylvia’s mom, Erika Ades, notes that the parties offer a diversion from their otherwise school-focused lives.
“The kids enjoy it because most of the time they’re so worried about school,” she says.
Indeed, amid the efficient assembly line of cupcake baking and decorating, the teens banter, giggle and occasionally burst out laughing.
“I love making the kids smile and see how happy they get when we’re there.” says Hayley Kim, 17, a veteran of four Celebrate U parties.
For Kyra Herschkowitz, 15, kids also are the draw. “I just like spending time with kids, so I do that as much as I can,” she says.
Karlee Gulkis, 17, concurs: “I love working with kids, and I like seeing smiles on their faces. I want to help them and give them a good memory.”
“Giving back” is the motivation for Luca Barbosa, 17. “I thought it was a great opportunity to give back to kids who are so less fortunate than we are,” he says.
For Ross, the parties are a reminder of his own good fortune. “Anyone that has a home forgets to appreciate what they have,” he says.
The parties are incredibly meaningful to the children who live at the shelter, says Peter Taylor, Children’s Services supervisor for Springfield Family Residence.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Taylor says. “The kids have a great time.”
Looking to the future
Kauder, 19, is now a sophomore at Cornell University, but she remains Celebrate U’s CEO. She recalls attending the first party that Ades and Ross hosted in May 2018 at Saratoga Family Inn, a homeless shelter in Jamaica.
“It was incredible to see how passionate and dedicated they are to the Celebrate U Foundation mission,” she says.
Kauder says she is excited to watch the foundation grow to serve more children, adding that she expects a third chapter to begin operating soon in Connecticut.
“It is inspiring to discover how many of the children and teens want to volunteer their time and energy helping children who are less fortunate than they are,” Kauder says.
For the immediate future, Sylvia Ades and Elijah Ross anticipate running fundraisers to sustain their chapter.
For the longer term, Sylvia wants to ensure that Celebrate U Port Washington stays viable while she is away at college two years from now.
“I want to leave a legacy with this, so I plan to pass it on to someone else,” she says. “I don’t want it to end with my high school experience ... I really think it’s important for people to have the experience to help others.”
Keep the party going
To help Celebrate U fund its parties, which each cost about $300, visit gofundme.com/celebrateuli. Follow them on Instagram at #CelebrateU_PortWashington.