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With nonprofit, alumnus aims to create special birthday memories

Shelby-Ann poses with the supplies from a birthday kit.

Every child’s special birthday memories include a few key ingredients: a delicious cake, candles to blow out and make a wish on, presents to open, and cards to display proudly in their rooms. A mechanical and industrial engineering alumnus and his wife recently started a nonprofit to make sure that every child has these elements of a memorable day.

Tony and Kelley Khoury launched Operation Birthday this summer with the goal of making sure every child feels special on their birthday.

Tony, who grew up in the Chicago area, said his family never had a ton of extra money during his childhood, but his parents, who both worked multiple jobs, made sure that he and his brothers always felt special on their birthdays.

“Looking back now I realize my mom would do all these thoughtful things for us on our birthdays and we would know how important we were to our family and everyone else in our lives,” Tony said. “With this nonprofit, we want to offer an avenue for parents to provide that same feeling for their kids, so they can make their childhoods special and create memories that will last a lifetime.”

“We also hope these families and kids who receive birthday kits can pay it forward to others when they have a chance,” he added.

Tony graduated from UIC in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and has served on the Richard and Loan Hill Department of Biomedical Engineering’s advisory board since 2018. He is an executive vice president with Project Farma, a precision medicine company that develops next-generation medicines. Tony also is involved in several local business ventures with his family, including a real estate organization called Capital Three Partners, a ramen restaurant named Furious Spoon, and a specialty cocktail bar, Pink Squirrel.

Operation Birthday provides birthday kits that are tailored to each child. Parents of children younger than 10 years old in the United States can go to Operation Birthday’s website to request a kit.

Kelley noted that the kits include handmade birthday cards created by her nieces and nephews, who are learning to start giving back at a young age.

The idea for Operation Birthday actually sprang from a tradition that began with the family’s niece, Shelby-Ann. Starting with her third birthday, Kelley began to take her shopping for birthday cake or cupcake supplies and the two would go and donate them at a local food bank so another kid could also celebrate their birthday. Kelley used the outings to teach Shelby-Ann about giving back and how she could help other kids feel as happy as she was on her own birthdays.

Tony said if anyone is interested in helping with Operation Birthday’s mission, they can make a donation on the organization’s website, 100 percent of which will go toward birthday kits.

“Our hope is that donors will think of us on their birthday or their child’s birthday and support our mission to ensure less fortunate kids are able to celebrate as well,” Kelley said.