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Donation party replaces birthday party


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Guests to Raegan Rybickiís 10th birthday party brought toys, not for Rybicki but for children who attend The Family Centerís Play Central, a drop-in open gym play group. The group meets Wednesday and Thursday mornings and afternoons. Photo courtesy of Donald Schulte Photography

February 07, 2013
Who has ever heard of an elementary-aged child not receiving a mound of toys for a birthday?

Who has heard of a 10-year-old telling birthday guests instead of bringing her presents to bring a toy to be donated to a nonprofit?

Meet Raegan Rybicki of Grosse Pointe Park.

She turned 10 in October. To celebrate her birthday, 16 of her closest friends gathered for pizza and cake. They brought presents — but not for Rybicki. Instead, the party-goers, and sometimes their parents, gave her toys to be donated to The Family Center's Play Central. Toys were geared to infants to 5 years old. Some gave gift cards so Rybicki could do the shopping. And participation was 100 percent, as it has been with past birthday parties.

"I can't tell you what joy it gives me," said Carla Whitton, Play Central coordinator said of the 24 new toys.

Play Central is a drop-in open play group at Barnes Early Childhood Center in Grosse Pointe Woods for children up to 5 years old.

Play Central has toys to develop children's large and small motor skills and provides a chance for children and their care providers to socialize. Rybicki's gifts added to Play Central's toy collection.

Among the items donated were a set of LEGOs, shape sorting toys, a guitar in the shape of a puppy and a tractor with animals that can be combined with toys already on hand. Whitton also said a Little People castle with four princesses was donated and is well used.

Over the course of several weeks, Whitton opened two or three toys per session, extending the anticipation and excitement.

"The kids come running (when she opens the toy closet). They stand as I opened two or three things. They were so enthusiastic. They were so excited. We (children) get so many things for Christmas and birthdays, to give them away is powerful," she said.

Many donations come in to Play Central when families cull their children's stashes. This is the first time new toys have been donated, Whitton said.

The idea of giving back to the community instead of accumulating more "stuff," came from Rybicki's mother, Juli. She said Raegan, as well as her second daughter, Rachel, 8, and son, Jackson, 6, have enough stuff.

Through the idea of giving directly to a nonprofit, "My husband and I make them more aware of those less fortunate. I strongly suggested this once you have a fifth birthday, started school and made a lot of friends," she ex-plained. "As they get older they come to understand and are very excited about the idea."

She and her husband and their grandparents do give the three Rybickis birthday gifts, but birthday party presents are donated to a specific nonprofit chosen by the birthday person.

For weeks prior to birthdays, Juli Rybicki's children spend a lot of time thinking about what organization to make a contribution, she said.

Juli Rybicki said her oldest daughter has always centered on giving to children's organizations, while her son is considering donating to an animal-focused organization.

Before the Children's Home of Detroit closed, Raegan Rybicki gathered toiletries for residents. Another year, she donated pajamas to its residents.

"I don't miss getting birthday presents," Raegan Rybicki said. "I get presents from my family. I have a lot of good toys and there are places that I can donate to."

While the three Rybicki children are donating to organizations of their choice, Mom and Dad are "walking the walk," Juli Rybicki said.

"We are philanthropic on an on-going basis. Everybody supports what is important to them," she said.

Raegan Rybicki feels children's causes is the path she will follow, much like her inclination to become a teacher.

With sights on her 11th birthday, she is considering asking her friends to bring school supplies.

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