Artspeak Radio with Webber, McCullough, and Marlow

Artspeak Radio, Wednesday, June 22, 2022, noon – 1pm CST, 90.1fm KKFI Kansas City Community Radio, streaming live audio

Producer/host Maria Vasquez Boyd welcomes Thad McCullough West iNd Connection Vice-President/Co-Executive Director, musician Joey Marlow and Benita Webber with Birthday Connections.

BENITA WEBBER, Birthday Connections – Why are birthdays important?
Research shows a child who has a meaningful birthday celebration feels love, joy, connection, importance, specialness. The child builds self-confidence, self-esteem, kindness and comes to believe in dreams, wishes, understands there is good in the world. A family’s bond can be strengthened when they are able to celebrate together.

Benita has been on an entrepreneurial path for the past decade. In 2013, she started Ripple Fundraisers. She co-founded Webber Agency with her husband, Jeff in 2016. And now Birthday Connections.
Benita has a degree in Special Education and a master’s degree in Library and Information Science. Volunteering has always been an important part of Benita’s life and led to a rewarding career in Volunteer Management. She has two daughters, a dog and a cat. And she is about to be a grandmother.

The conceptualization of Birthday Connections came about a year ago as a project for a grant writing class I enrolled in. By the end of the class the instructor asked if this was a real program and when I responded no, but, she emphatically responded it needs to be. I began sharing the idea with friends and family. I reached out to various organizations to get feedback. Through lots of research, conversations, and feedback, Birthday Connections was officially created.

We launched June 1 with a 6-month pilot program with Rose Brooks Center celebrating approximately 5 birthdays each month. The pilot program will give us our market research to build out the process.
How it works: Our vision is to raise awareness of the importance of children celebrating their birthdays every year. We collaborate with local social service agencies to identify underserved families in Kansas City’s urban core who need financial support to provide their children who are between the ages of 1 and 18 years old with a meaningful birthday.
We empower the families to shop at no cost in our Digital Marketplace for the gifts they want to give to their children.

The Digital Marketplace contains gifts, activities, sweet treats, books, and birthday cards. Families have 75 points to shop for kids 1 – 8 years old and 150 points for kids between 9 and 18.

It takes a village…
We partner with the culinary program at Manual Tech and Career Center for the sweet treats (the students will be compensated). We partner with the Kansas City Public Library’s Outreach program and the nonprofit. We are beginning to partner with middle school and high school art programs and community centers to create individual one of a kind birthday cards. Hallmark generously provided card stock and envelopes.

Donations are needed to keep this program going!

It’s a luxury of time, finances, and energy to celebrate children’s birthdays. Families living at or below the poverty line have little to no disposable income to spend on children’s birthdays. Families desperate to provide their children with a meaningful birthday may go to extreme measures such as take on debt by taking out payday loans, borrow from family members, or skip paying essential bills. They know birthdays are important to their children. Birthday Connections will be a resource to these families to provide a moment of calm in a world where there is a lot of chaos.
Birthdays are memories. We want kids to have positive memories of their birthdays. to donate and sign up to volunteer.

Research shows celebrating birthdays:
• Serves as an annual occurring growth-enhancement event since there isn’t a physical marker for growing older.
• Assists children in understanding what aging means and its developmental significance.
• Sharing special experiences and creating memories enhances the bond and security between families and their children.
• Provides consistency and continuity in their lives; an event to look forward to year after year.
• Shows families value family time and togetherness. In turn, children will embrace the values and strive to build relationships with others and consider those relationships important.
• Increases secure attachments which has lasting positive effects on children’s self-esteem, development, behavior, and emotions.
• Establishes family traditions/rituals which are positive and important – the sense of being together to celebrate a special time and someone special.
• Provides a unique benefit for children cognitively and socially, and for parent-child relationships.
• Teaches a child how to celebrate and how to love others in a special way – a skill that lasts a lifetime.

What if every child had the opportunity to have a meaningful birthday every year? What difference would we see?

THAD McCULLOUGH, West iNd Connection Vice-President/Co-Executive Director
“I’ve started advocating for the Queer Community even before I knew I was a member of the community. In middle school I was in class and we watched a program about “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.” After, the teacher asked us to raise our hands if we believed that “Gays should be allowed in the Military?” I was the only one with a raised hand. Since then I co-created a non-profit, West iNd Connection, whose purpose is to create a Good Vibes culture in Western Independence through philanthropic events. Supporting the LGBTQ+ Community is a vital part of that mission. With community partners we have created Independence’s 1st Pride event and expanded my birthday fundraiser to a Drag Variety show that funds the Gay/Straight Alliance Clubs and create scholarships for all 4 High Schools in Indpendence. in the past 7 years we have raised over $37,000. We now have our eyes on creating a LGBTQ+ Community Center/Safe Space for Independence!”

JOEY MARLOW – Marlow performs a wide range of covers (Elton John, Journey, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Evanescence, Maroon 5 etc.) and some originals in a deeply soulful rock style. Wondering what “deeply soulful” means? Well, it may help to know that his devoted fans are affectionately known as “Crybabies.” (


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