What's Up, South Texas: Woman throws 30th birthday for 130 abused, neglected children

By Japhanie Gray - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - A San Antonio woman decided to celebrate her 30th birthday in the most selfless way she possibly could.

Amanda Rico threw a major birthday bash for 130 abused and neglected children at St. PJ’s Children’s Home.

Rico said that, weeks ago, she was planning a major birthday for herself.

“My husband had asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday,” Rico said. “So I created a Pinterest board with things I wanted to do. I started to think about all the extravagant things I wanted to do -- my birthday cake. I wanted to have mariachis, and I wanted them to serenade me. My husband is an amazing person, so he was thinking, ‘How in the world am I going to make this all happen?’”

Rico said it was reading a book to her young boys before bed that changed her heart. The book is titled "Light Up the Darkness."

“It is about a young boy who is blind, and the setting is the Nativity scene,” Rico said. “He hears about Mary and Joseph getting denied a place to stay, and he relates, saying he understands how it feels to be denied. At the end, he gets his sight back from Jesus.”

Rico said the first page of the book is what brought her to tears.

“It says, ‘I was just a boy one winter’s night beneath my favorite tree. It was the night of my 12th birthday all alone as I can be. No cards, no cake, no candles, no presents wrapped for me, because no one threw a party for a little boy who couldn’t see.'”

That is when a lightbulb went off in her head.

“I stopped and said, ‘Wow! Am I being selfish that I have been blessed with 30 wonderful years of life? And how many other children out there that do not have the opportunity to have a wonderful birthday or experience these great things?’” Rico said.

She told her husband she wanted to throw a party for others instead.

“I was thinking maybe something simple, like just a cake, but it blew up,” Rico said. “It means a lot, because I think we get so caught up in our daily lives. It is just very natural for us to be humanly selfish, but sometimes, just taking a step back and thinking of other people’s circumstances is humbling.”

Rico said starting off was a bit discouraging.

“The process was pretty interesting,” Rico said. “I was fighting it, but I thought ‘Alright, God, if you are telling me to do this, then I am going to do this. I started by picking the phone up and calling people. I got a lot of no's at first. People were saying they didn’t do volunteer work or they couldn’t help because they were booked that day.”

She said she also felt denied through social media.

“A week before all of this, I had posted about a dog that I picked up and I was trying to find a home for, and, man, it went viral,” Rico said. “It got, like, 3,000 views, but when it comes to a human, I wasn’t getting the same traction. My husband had to tell me that, unfortunately, that is how society is sometimes. A lot of children are put to the side, which is just devastating to me.”

In the end, Rico said she got her birthday wish.

“I gave it one more shot and called Bryan Boyd, who did my wedding reception, and he was, like, ‘OK.’ I was, like, ‘OK, what?’ He was, like, ‘OK, I’ll help you make this viral.’”

Boyd helped Rico get catering, a photo booth, a videographer, a balloon artist, a live DJ and other things needed for the party. 

Rico then needed a place that she wanted to help and decided St. PJ’s Children’s Home was the perfect place.

“I chose this place because my parents loved the missions, and we would always go sightseeing, and this place was on the way to the missions," she said. "I knew it was an orphanage before, and now it is a children’s home, but that is all I knew about it. Then, I did more research and found that this was the largest facility in San Antonio. What better way to go big or go home, right?”

With several volunteers on board and the facility secured, Rico spent all Friday afternoon preparing what was about to be a major surprise for kids of all ages.

“It disheartens me that this is still a reality today -- children being without a loving family,” Rico said. "This place does a good job by providing them with the best pathway possible, but it is upsetting because I have children on my own, and I think, 'What if they didn’t have (parents) or if they felt denied?'”

The children at the home had no idea what was in store for their evening.

“They thought they were just going to have a normal dinner and then go back for bath time and then back to their dorms,” Rico said. “They got a lot more than that.”

In addition to the party in its entirety being worth a few thousand dollars, Rico also started a GoFundMe page, raising $1,500 to purchase clothes, shoes, hygiene products and other items the children’s home needed.

“I want my kids to know from this event that they can make a difference, and if it is an idea, to not think it is crazy,” Rico said. “Make it happen. I want them to be humanitarian and humble and to live that legacy. Have an open heart for others.”

Most of all, Rico said, she hopes this inspires the community to be a light for others out there in need.

“We are here for just more than ourselves, and I want them to understand what that big global picture is,” Rico said. “Take a step back and look beyond yourself and really just have an open heart through it all.”

If you know someone like Rico who is making a difference in the South Texas community or who has a unique story, send us your tips. Contact Japhanie Gray on Facebook or @JGrayKSAT on Twitter. You can also send your tips to KSAT 12 & KSAT.com on Facebook.

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