Larry LaRue

LaRue: Spanaway teen throws birthday bashes for kids in need

Spencer Broden, a Mount Rainier Lutheran High School senior and competitive swimmer, works on birthday supplies in his room at home in Spanaway on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015. Broden last year established a charity aimed at giving underpriviledged kids birthday parties. So far he's given four, three since October, and has run out of applicants. He has more money than children asking. He works with Puyallup Food Bank to find children.
Spencer Broden, a Mount Rainier Lutheran High School senior and competitive swimmer, works on birthday supplies in his room at home in Spanaway on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015. Broden last year established a charity aimed at giving underpriviledged kids birthday parties. So far he's given four, three since October, and has run out of applicants. He has more money than children asking. He works with Puyallup Food Bank to find children. lwong@thenewstribune.com

When Spencer Broden was a first-grader, he accompanied his parents when they volunteered at the Tacoma Rescue Mission, and he almost always made friends.

One of them changed his life.

“I became fast friends with another kid, Justice, and one day I went to his house,” Spencer recalled this week. “Like all little kids, the first thing I wanted to do was check out what toys he had so I could play with them. I couldn’t find any.

“I asked my mom why he didn’t have any toys, and she said his parents couldn’t afford them.”

When he got home, Spencer went to his room and began piling up toys he wanted to give Justice and other kids from the Mission.

His next two birthdays, instead of getting new ones, he asked that any toys meant for him be sent to kids at the Mission.

Mark Reed didn’t meet Spencer until Spencer was about 8 — the same age as Reed’s son — when the two boys began swimming at the aquatics center in Federal Way.

“He was a driven kid,” Reed said. “When he started swimming competitively, he really got into it. He has a room full of medals and ribbons, and at one point I know he was in the top 25 breaststroke swimmers in the country.”

Spencer is now 17, a senior at Mount Rainier Lutheran High School. Last year, with the Seattle Summer Swim League, he was all-city champion in the 50-meter breaststroke.

I’ve done this 17 years and seen people with wonderful ideas and little follow through. If he was not going to follow through, children could be unnecessarily hurt. I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.

Shanna Peterson, Puyallup Food Bank director

Having never forgotten that young boy with no toys, the Spanaway resident wanted to start a nonprofit to help children, but first he consulted with Puyallup Food Bank executive director Shanna Peterson.

“I listened to his idea,” she said.

The idea: hosting birthday parties for children whose parents couldn’t afford to give them one.

“I’ve done this 17 years and seen people with wonderful ideas and little follow through,” Peterson said. “If he was not going to follow through, children could be unnecessarily hurt. I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.”

Spencer recalled the meeting.

“She basically told me to go prove myself and come back,” he said.

So he did. He went fundraising, held a candy bar sale and a spaghetti dinner — and hit up all his friends.

“He got me, of course,” Reed said with a laugh. “Good cause, though.”

I’ll buy supplies, book the party, send them invitations to give their friends. I bring the cake and meet them at the party. I’m in charge of setup and teardown. I bring balloons and goodie bags for each child in attendance.

Spencer Broden

With close to $2,000, Spencer went back to the Puyallup Food Bank.

Now he had money and a plan. This was how it was supposed to go:

“The party, including the birthday child, would have eight kids and any parents who wanted to come,” he explained. “Beforehand, I ask where they’d like the party held, what kind of cake they want.

“From there, I’ll buy supplies, book the party, send them invitations to give their friends. I bring the cake and meet them at the party. I’m in charge of setup and teardown.

“I bring balloons and goodie bags for each child in attendance.”

All he needed was children.

“I put posters up in the Food Bank and at church, got emails from two people,” he said. “In all, since last June, we’ve had four birthday parties.”

Peterson said you can’t underestimate the value of what Spencer is doing.

“Four parties doesn’t seem like much, but it’s huge,” she said. “That’s four children whose lives have altered in a positive way.”

Spencer stepped up.

Shanna Peterson, Puyallup Food Bank director

Not everyone involved has felt as charitable as Spencer.

“I’ve had parties at four different locations — two in Tacoma, one in Federal Way, another in Lacey,” he said. “I told each what I was doing and asked if I might be able to get a deal on prices.

“They said no.”

Peterson and the Food Bank were huge supporters.

“Once we saw what he was doing and how dedicated he was to it, we basically told him anything we had was his,” Peterson said. “We gave him candy, some cupcakes. I told him, if a child needs a gift and you can’t find it, ask me. I’ll pull some strings.”

Spencer has continued to raise funds and now has about $3,500 set aside.

Spoiler alert: He has never turned down a request for a party.

“He makes me proud,” Peterson said. “Spencer genuinely has a caring, loving, Christ-like heart.”

More information

To request a birthday party for a child between 5 and 10 years old, email Time2Party@hotmail.com. Include a 250-word essay on why the child should have a party.

To donate to Time2Party!, send checks to the Puyallup Food Bank, 110 23rd St. SE, Puyallup, WA 98371. Write ‘Time2Party!’ in the memo section of your check.

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