This story appears in the Summer 2015 edition of Our Big Backyard, a quarterly magazine about parks and nature. Read more stories, plan an outing with a field guide, and find out more about fun nature events and classes.
Most children celebrating their birthdays request the latest toys or parties at playhouses or pools.
Not Powell Jacob. The Troutdale boy celebrated his sixth birthday last fall with a volunteer party at Oxbow Regional Park. He invited about 15 friends and classmates to help pick up litter around the park for two hours. And in lieu of gifts, Powell asked for contributions to the Oregon Food Bank.
The guests enjoyed the unique party, said Audra Norris-Jacob, Powell’s mother.
"They felt like it was a meaningful activity and a refreshing change to the sort of inflatable jump-around kind of birthday parties that are all about consumerism," she said. "All of the kids really enjoyed having some exposure to a different outdoor activity and actually doing something good for the community. I think it was well-received by the community, and I would encourage any parent to do this."
The family regularly picks up litter whenever they’re at a park or beach, she said. "That’s just something that’s very important that we ingrained in him, to take care of the environment and to not litter," she said.
It was one of these trips to the beach last year that inspired Powell to come up with the idea for his birthday party.
"I was at the beach, and I asked ‘Can I have a trash pickup for my birthday?’" said Powell, a first grader at Lewis and Clark Montessori Charter School in Damascus. "And my mom said yes, so I chose to do that."
Picking up litter "felt good," he said, and it was important work "so that nature can grow."
Of course, picking up litter requires first finding it.
"The kids and their parent helpers were able to find enough litter to feel like they made a real contribution," said Ben Jacob, Powell’s father. "But I think all of us, especially the parents, were impressed by how clean the park already was."
Powell raised $177 for the Oregon Food Bank at his party. Powell personally delivered the money to the food bank and toured the facilities to see how it handles and packages food.
"It would be outstanding if Powell’s litter-pickup birthday party inspires at least one other child to host a service project on their birthday," Jacob said.