When Meg Yunn was a girl, her mother, Patty Schreck, always made her feel special on her birthday.
When Meg turned 5, her mom placed a Barbie in the center of a cake and decorated around the doll in fanciful swirls of colorful icings to resemble a ball gown.
When she turned 6 and 13, Meg was the guest of honor at surprise birthday parties with friends and family arranged by her mother.
Even when she was in college, her mother sent her a "birthday in a box" -- cake, gifts and other treats.
So, when Mrs. Yunn, of North Huntingdon, encountered a fifth-grader who had never had a birthday party, she decided to do something about it. She submitted a plan to a nationwide contest to provide birthday celebrations for at-risk youth.
She was named one of 10 first-place winners, and Beverly's Birthdays, inspired by the fifth-grader, was born.
The nonprofit works with Pittsburgh-based agencies to provide birthday celebrations for children who are homeless and/or in the Office of Children, Youth and Families system.
Mrs. Yunn said about 1,700 children in Allegheny County were identified as homeless for a seven-month period ending Jan. 31, 2011, by Pittsburgh-based Homeless Children's Education Fund.
"Regardless of personal circumstance, birthdays are meant to be celebrated, and all children should have the opportunity to feel special and recognized," Mrs. Yunn said.
Her effort began in March as Mrs. Yunn read to 11-year-old Beverly at a community center.
When the words "accustomed to" arose in the story, Mrs. Yunn, in defining the unfamiliar phrase, gave the example of people being accustomed to cakes and gifts at their birthday parties.
When Beverly said she'd never had a birthday party, Mrs. Yunn quickly found another example.
But the image of a child not being acknowledged on her special day stuck with her.
In June, upon learning of the nationwide Scholastic Media's third annual contest called Clifford the Big Red Dog BE BIG! in Your Community, Mrs. Yunn thought of Beverly and submitted the birthday proposal.
The contest was designed to spur action and raise awareness of notions such as sharing, working together, helping others, believing in oneself and more, as demonstrated in the Clifford the Big Red Dog children's book series.
Of the more than 1,000 entries, one grand prize, 10 first-place and 19 second-place honorees were selected -- based on the criteria of feasibility, creativity, sustainability and impact.
As a first-place winner, Mrs. Yunn received a $2,500 grant to cover start-up costs for Beverly's Birthdays.
The project will be implemented with the help of the HandsOn Network affiliate, HandsOn, which teamed with Scholastic Media for the contest and is the nation's largest volunteer network.
Improving children's quality of life through Beverly's Birthdays in her spare time will not be a stretch for Mrs. Yunn, whose day job is all about community involvement.
In her role as director of volunteer programs at Washington & Jefferson College, she oversees student volunteers in hospitals, as high school tutors and in combatting community hunger and poverty.
While Beverly's Birthdays' details are being worked out, Mrs. Yunn said she will put together monthly parties with cake and other festivities at shelters.
"The celebration doesn't have to be expensive but simply to be acknowledged on your special day and to know someone put in the time and effort to do so ... all children deserve the opportunity to blow out a birthday candle and make a wish," she said.
Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org .