When the store closed where Stephen Todd, who has Down syndrome, bagged groceries, his mom wondered what he would do. But he found a meaningful way to fill his time and help others, too: by making birdhouses for charity.
Stephen’s Beautiful Idea
Jamie Todd’s heart fell when, in 2018, she learned that the store where her then-27-year-old son Stephen, who has Down syndrome, worked bagging groceries was closing. What now? she wondered. People with disabilities have a hard time finding jobs, the Virginia Beach mom knew. I want him to do something that gives him purpose … makes him feel good.
To her surprise, Stephen had something in mind. On his birthday that September, he told his parents, “I want to do something to help people, and give something away.”
Touched, Jamie and word of mouth and local media Stephen’s dad, Kevin, began racking their brains for ideas. Then one afternoon, as Kevin was watching the playful bluebirds gathering among the birdhouses in their backyard, inspiration struck.
Stephen loves watching the bluebirds flit in and out of the houses, Kevin thought.
“Maybe you could do something with that,” he suggested.
“Yes!” Stephen enthused.
Immediately, he made a Facebook post: For my birthday, I want to donate money from birdhouses to charity. And that was the beginning of Bluebird Beach Bungalows, now a 501c3 nonprofit that has made more than 5,000 birdhouses and donated about $85,000 to multiple nonprofits.
A grassroots effort that operates with just a Facebook page (Bluebird Beach Bungalows), word of mouth, and local media coverage, Bluebird Beach Bungalows makes birdhouses from repurposed wood, old fences and such donated by community members. Kevin saws the wood into pieces for kits, then Stephen and a team of friends with disabilities assemble each birdhouse, drill entry holes, and decorate the houses using sea glass, shells, and other items found on the beach. The artists sign their birdhouses.
Stephen, who spends about 20 hours a week making birdhouses, picks a new charity every month and donates 100 percent of the purchasing cost of $15 per house. He mostly focuses on local nonprofits that help people with disabilities and the environment.
Stephen also donates many houses to charities that auction them, or to places like parks and assisted-living facilities. Bluebird Beach Bungalows doesn’t ship orders; local or visiting buyers must pick up their purchases. But you can visit their Facebook page to show support and learn other ways to help or donate.
Jamie says she is “beyond proud” of her son. “He has a heart of gold. We’re just thankful for that. It’s a little bit addicting to be giving back, and that’s been thrilling.”
Adds Stephen, his voice filled with joy and pride: “I make birdhouses with lots of love and decorate them. I feel good and do good things.”
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This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.