University of Calgary
UofC Navigation

Student engineer's birthday charity earns her national recognition

Michael Platt

Sheliza Kassam, Schulich engineering student

That’s a whole lot of cake – and with a $10,000 grant to help underprivileged kids celebrate their birthdays, Schulich engineering student Sheliza Kassam will have plenty left over for presents and loot bags as well.

Kassam is one of 10 Canadian women recently honoured by  L’Oreal Paris for her efforts helping others in the community, a distinction that includes a $10,000 boost for Children’s Birthday Miracles, a Canadian charitable organization the future chemical engineer started when she was just 16 years old.

“I love children, and wanted to make a huge impact on their lives,” said Kassam, who attended L’Oreal’s Women of Worth gala in Toronto on March 8.

And what an impact Children’s Birthday Miracles has already made: in the past four years, the charitable organization has hosted parties for more than 4,000 children across the globe, bringing families together in a celebration that includes presents, mascots, goody bags and of course, cake.

And it was cake that started it all – though not a recipe Kassam hopes to ever eat again.

She was 12 years old at the time, and inadvertently consumed birthday cake containing peanuts, an error that sent the severely allergic youngster straight to the hospital.

Naturally, she was sad to have missed her own party – but Kassam says her parents explained that many underprivileged  children don’t get birthday parties at all, and she should always count her blessings.

“I realized I was so fortunate, and decided I must do more to make a difference in our world,” said Kassam.

From then on, the young Ismaili Muslim devoted her own birthdays to serving breakfast at Inn From the Cold, and there, when she witnessed children and families caught up in poverty, Kassam decided to make at least one day special for those with little else.

“A birthday party is such a significant moment for children, and I saw it as a way to bring families together,” said Kassam, currently in her second year at Schulich School of Engineering.

The L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth honour will help expand the birthday charity to shelters and hospitals in even more cities, while promoting Party it Forward, a program Kassam started to encourage children to donate presents to kids in need.

Kassam, whose past honours include Top 20 Under 20 Canada and Stars of Alberta Volunteer Award, was one of 350 Canadian women nominated for Women of Worth recognition.

Kassam says she has been deeply inspired by the women she’s met as a result, a sentiment echoed by  L'Oréal Paris’ Canadian leaders.

"It has been a highlight of my career to meet and be inspired by such an outstanding group of women," said  Stephanie Binette, General Manager, L'Oréal Paris in Canada.

"While the financial grant will be a great help, L'Oréal Paris is committed in providing each Honouree with continuous guidance throughout the year in order to help their organizations prosper, with the mission of extending more resources to those in need.”

To learn more about Children’s Birthday Miracles, go to www.childrensbirthdaymiracles.com

To learn more about Women of Worth, visit womenofworth.ca