Charity becoming a theme at children's birthday parties

Natalie McGuire celebrated her 9th birthday by collecting toys to donate to other children.
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"Paying it forward" - it's a growing birthday party trend among parents and their kids.

Natalie McGuire just turned nine, but the birthday girl didn't get a single gift.

"I have too many toys," said Natalie.

Instead, the second grader asked friends to bring Lego sets to her party so she could donate them.

"You roughly spend $20-25 on a gift and your $20-25 gift is going to get played with two or three times and then it's going to get stuck in a closet or its going to end up at Goodwill," said Natalie's mom, Sarah McGuire.

"It's going to end up in a landfill. I mean, why?" McGuire asked.

That question led Natalie to the story of another young person, just a year older than she is now. But nine-year-old Joey Keller won't get to enjoy anymore birthdays - he died this past November of a brain tumor.

Even while fighting for his own life, Joey wanted the sick kids around him to have Lego sets like the ones he enjoyed playing with while undergoing his treatment.

Joey's parents, Nick and Elizabeth Keller, are still very much grieving their only child's death, but in the wake of that grief, they've created "Team Joey."

The organization is part of A Heroes Foundation. Team Joey raises money for pediatric cancer research, but it also collects and donates Legos to sick kids in hospitals across Indiana.

"She just simply said, 'Let's do Legos for Team Joey for my birthday this year'," recalled McGuire of Natalie's wish for her birthday this year.

Thursday, Natalie gave the Kellers dozens of Lego sets she collected. Some came from her friends who came to her birthday party. The others, Natalie bought with money she raised by selling friendship bracelets that she and a friend made.

"Natalie, you are really generous and that is the same heart that Joey had and that means a lot to us," Joey's father, Nick Keller told Natalie, when he saw all the Lego sets she had collected for Team Joey. "This is going to make a lot of kids smile that are really going through really tough circumstances."

The Kellers said they think birthday parties encouraging charity are a great way to teach kids how to pay it forward.

"I think its great that kids are learning to think beyond themselves and are so generous," said Elizabeth Keller.

"We're just completely blown away by it," added Nick.

"I mean, an eight-year old. I know when I was eight, all I could think about was myself and what I wanted," he continued.

Child development experts said the idea of charitable birthday parties has become more popular.

"I am hearing a lot about giving back," said Tammy French, the director of Children of America in Avon. "The parents are talking about doing birthday parties and asking the people to donate books or donate a gift versus buy the child a present or a gift that they might not necessarily need or play with."

French also said these kind of parties are a way to teach children an important life lesson.

"It teaches compassion for others at a young age. It teaches empathy," she explained.

"I think its a good trend," said Sarah McGuire. "It teaches children that they're not entitled. It takes out the entitlement factor."

Parents said it puts the focus on others, like the sick kids who'll get Legos from Team Joey during some of the toughest times of their young lives.