CAMDEN, Maine — Some people really like a birthday party.
Camden real estate broker Shannon Lynn Thompson is one of those people. In fact, she likes parties so much that in recent years she’s been throwing bashes on her birthday that double as successful charitable fundraisers.
Last year’s contra dance birthday party lured 200 people out on a chilly March night to pound the wooden floors of the Rockport Opera House and to dine on food provided by Rockland eatery Cafe Miranda. The partygoers, many of whom Thompson did not know, raised $4,000 to support The Rig, a nonprofit created for and by Camden-area teens.
This year, she wants the funds raised at her March 8 birthday dance party to be used to help a local woman whose 18-year-old son has cancer.
“It’s a way for people to come and just have a really great time and do something wonderful for somebody in the process,” Thompson, who is turning 46 this year, said Friday. “It’s a blast. It’s really a huge amount of fun. Last year, it really took on a life of its own. A couple of weeks before the event, I realized that my only job was to not get in the way.”
She said that she began holding the charitable birthday parties in 2009, when her usual goal of traveling somewhere to mark the date didn’t work out, and she wanted to throw a big party instead.
“It really is kind of self-serving. It started when I wanted to book The Toughcats [band] and dance my face off,” Thompson said. “I have some experiencing organizing events. I like to do the work. I wanted to see if I could make a benefit out of it.”
While she was still planning the party, the Haitian earthquake happened and she decided to use proceeds to help recovery efforts there. That year, she raised $3,000.
“I realized it’s a thing that works pretty darn well,” Thompson said of the benefit birthdays.
Another year, she used the money raised to help a friend who was diagnosed with both Huntington’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder, and lymphoma.
“Fortunately, she’s doing great,” Thompson said.
She decided that this year’s proceeds should help a kid with cancer in part because three years ago in March, her 5-year-old niece died of a brain tumor.
“This time of year for me is very much about her, and losing her. The anniversary of her death looms large.” Thompson said.
She said that when she offered the sick boy’s mom the birthday party proceeds, she was grateful the woman said yes.
“It does feel good to be able to contribute in some way,” Thompson said.
The boy’s mother, who does not want to be named, said that her son has a poor prognosis. He was diagnosed more than a year ago with inoperable brain cancer that has recently metastasized into his spine.
She and her son are both very private, and it has been hard for them to open up to the community about what they’re going through. Being Thompson’s birthday beneficiaries has been emotional for them.
“The whole experience has been overwhelming,” she said. “It’s not about the money. It’s about people coming together to do this.”
And that may be the thing about Thompson’s birthday party. It’s fun to get dressed up and wear a sparkly tiara to a giant birthday party in the long, slow end of the winter. It’s great to see friends, new and old, gather to dance the night away. But it’s more than that, for both Thompson and all the volunteers who put the event together.
“Honestly, I do it because I like a big party. But what has changed is that I’m doing it because of the community that’s developing around it,” she said. “People want to step up, and help out, and come together, and celebrate and grieve.”
This year’s benefit birthday contra dance and dinner will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 8, at the Rockport Opera House. It will feature a dinner bar from Cafe Miranda and a workshop and contra dance with Perpetual e-Motion and caller Will Mentor. Tickets are $25 for dinner and dancing or $15 for just the dance. They can be bought in advance at HAV II and Zoot Coffee in Camden or online at www.birthdaybenefit.org, where there is also a way for people to donate to the family.