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Teen uses party to help less fortunate families at Christmas
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A present is wrapped at O’Brien’s 17th birthday party. - photo by JOSHUA L. JONES

Bailee O’Brien always has trouble deciding what to do on her birthday.

Since it falls on Dec. 4, most people are busy with post-Thanksgiving break plans or are out of town.

But she had no difficulty in making birthday plans this year.

“I’m having a Christmas-themed birthday party this year, where I gave away everything that would’ve been spent on me,” Bailee said. “I already have everything I need. So why should I ask for more when there are people who have nothing?”

PLANNING A PARTY FOR OTHERS

This year, the 17-year-old is spreading the Christmas spirit to those less fortunate — three families to be exact — instead of focusing on herself.

“I have such awesome parents who give us everything we could ever want,” Bailee said. “So I felt kind of bad asking for things when there are people who literally have nothing.”

Her idea originated from a friend, who asked Bailee to help sponsor a family as a part of Flowery Branch High School’s DECA program. But the Flowery Branch teen decided to take her donation a step further.

“Someone texted me and asked me if I could sponsor (a family), or help give a little extra money. I said, ‘Well, I don’t know what I want to do for my birthday, would they be OK if I gave them my presents?’”

The answer was yes.

With the first hurdle cleared, Bailee approached her father, Mark O’Brien, about her plan. He immediately approved.

Next, she told her mother, Courtney, who ensures her five children celebrate their birthdays in style.

“It was so sweet because… we do birthdays big,” Courtney O’Brien said. “And then, she came to me saying she wants to give it all away.”

Courtney said it was a proud moment for her. So she concentrated her efforts into helping Bailee with her mission.

With both parents on board, Bailee began to plan her birthday. She sent out to her friends a list of the ages and clothing sizes of the children she agreed to sponsor this holiday season.

HELPING AREA FAMILIES IN NEED

The O’Briens contacted three families to help through Banks County and Flowery Branch High School teachers.  Two families are from Banks County while one is from Gwinnett County.

But at least one family needed some convincing to accept help. And the O’Briens understand some people do not want to ask for help.

“A lot of families are very prideful ... That’s one thing you have to get through, is that a lot of people don’t want to be helped,” Bailee said.

But the family accepted the assistance, knowing some of Bailee’s gifts would go to a 10-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy. (At the request of the families, the names are being withheld.)

“She acts like she’s 16, so we got her all girly clothes, like sweaters and cardigans so she can dress really cute and warm,” Bailee said. “She likes makeup and perfume and straighteners.”

Having just turned 17, Bailee knew what she would want. Her experience with her younger brother, Maddox, also gave her insight on what to buy for a boy.

“Three-year-old boys kind of like everything,” she said. “So I told people to bring trucks, cars and helicopters.”

Both children will receive winter clothes as well as some T-shirts.

The second family the O’Briens sponsored was a single mother and her three little girls, ranging in ages 4-7.

“She works real hard, and they struggle so much,” said Courtney, whose family has developed a relationship with the family of four.

In fact, the O’Briens and their children saw the family’s needs first-hand during a visit to the home.

“Literally, they don’t have heat in their house,” Courtney said. “We went out and put tires on her car. She’s been walking to work. She just needed tires.”

The O’Briens also delivered a Christmas tree. And because of Bailee’s party, they will have presents underneath it.

“If we didn’t ... they wouldn’t get anything and that’s awful,” said Bailee, who asked her party guests to bring baby dolls and Barbies for the trio of girls.

The final family on Bailee’s party list were a 14-year-old girl and her 6-year-old brother.

“We heard about one girl who has to wear her dad’s clothes to school,” Courtney said. “She mostly just needs clothes.”

“And the 6-year-old only has two pairs of pants, but he doesn’t really care,” Bailee said. “It’s hard to even think about getting things for yourself when you see people that don’t have clothes.”

CELEBRATING A BIGGER BIRTHDAY PURPOSE

With the families in agreement and the invitations sent, Bailee and her family were ready for the ultimate Christmas-themed birthday party Dec. 5 with all hands on deck.

Bailee’s younger brother, Maddox, helped out as much as any 4-year-old could. He wandered around, peeking at toys on the table with a mischievous grin as reindeer antlers stuck up from the headband on his blond hair.

Her older sister, Madison, 19, and younger siblings Mackenzie, 14, and Baxley, 12, also assisted.

But Bailee and her friends took over the brunt of the work, setting up the small silver Christmas tree sitting atop a table in the middle of the room first. The group of a dozen friends strung lights and hung ornaments from the tree while Christmas music played.

“Some of my friends, don’t really like to get involved in things,” she said. “So I was hoping that this could be a way for them to get involved.”

Bailee’s friend and party guest Madison Chambers said she wasn’t surprised by the extraordinary nature of her friend’s birthday theme.

“She just has such a big heart for other people, it wasn’t surprising,” Madison said.

Once the guests arrived en mass, they began wrapping presents for the three families. Bailee’s friends donated presents to the pile of existing presents the O’Briens had bought themselves.

“We all have pretty good lives,” Bailee said. “So, whenever I told them, they were all like, ‘Yes, that’s awesome!’”

Decked out in Christmas sweaters and other holiday-themed clothing, Bailee’s friends and family resembled elves as they wrapped several presents and divided the two dozen or so gifts into a boy’s and girl’s pile.

Courtney explained the families receiving the gifts were humbled by the request.

“They don’t really ask for anything. They say anything could help,” she said, explaining she believes her daughter’s efforts will be appreciated. “We hope to give them the best Christmas they’ve ever had.”

But Bailee’s charitable efforts seemed to be the perfect gift to her parents, who decided to follow their daughter’s example.

“My husband and I followed suit with Bailee,” Courtney said. “We said, ‘We don’t need anything, so we used our money for Christmas to just help people.”

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