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South Florida homeless centers make up for lost birthdays

For the nearly 200 members of the Broward Outreach Community Center in Hollywood who participated in the Miami Rescue Mission’s annual Bombastic Birthday Party Wednesday morning, it was a celebration years in the making.

Gary Golly had stopped celebrating his birthday years ago.

“Because I’ve been incarcerated so much, birthdays are just regular days for me,” said Golly. He turned 54 on Jan. 3.

It was the fifth annual party thrown to commemorate the birthdays of the center’s homeless clients. Similar parties took place Wednesday in Miami and Pompano.

“We realize that there are many homeless people who don’t celebrate their birthdays in years,” said Nina Corbe, Miami Rescue Missions Broward supervisor. “It’s not just for the physical part, it’s for the spiritual part.”

Organizers hope the homeless who attend will take part in other programs the centers offer to teach them the life skills they need to get back on their feet.

Golly was in a downward spiral, “making bad decisions,” not paying his rent and dabbling in drugs and alcohol, he said. He was assaulted and about to be evicted out of his house with nowhere to go.

“I didn’t know you could come to a place and they’ll help you get on your feet,” he said. “I didn’t know this existed in Fort Lauderdale.”

Golly sat among his friends in a sea of party streamers, goody bags and smiles.

Birthday presents for the men included T-shirts, underwear and socks; gifts for the women included Bath and Body Works products as well as a piece of jewelry.

For the children, there were plenty of choices, ranging from Barbies to basketballs.

Samantha and son 15-year-old Ronaldo, who declined to give their last names, were one of the families who found refuge and safety from a life of homelessness at the center. An event such as this, Samantha said, was a change from the monotony of life for her and her kids.

“It uplifts your spirt because you know there are a lot of people out there who care about you and take the time to put this together,” she said.

Guest Ken Nystrom came for the legendary Chick-Fil-A sandwiches. It was his second time at the annual birthday party, held only a month after he turned 54 on May 15.

“I think it’s great that they do this,” Nystrom, a Philadelphia native, said. “It brings meaning to the people who really thought they didn’t have anything.”

Nystrom joined the center in May 2012 when a friend in Philadelphia told him about the program. He was educated in the center and keeps coming back to read and expand his knowledge, he said.

After enjoying their chicken patties, the guests took part in three rounds of musical chairs, with the last round known as the Playoff Finals, inspiring cheers of “Go Heat!” from guests hoping the team will take the 2013 title. At the end, Jon Rafael reigned victorious.

The 42-year-old raised his arms over his cobalt blue and purple violet mohawk in celebration. Rafael, a former hairdresser, gives haircuts to the people who come to the center.

It’s still a few months before the Fort Lauderdale native celebrates his Aug. 12 birthday, but at the event, he praised the outreach center for bringing joy into the lives of others for one day.

“For an establishment, for somebody to start something like this, I find it fulfilling,” Rafael said.