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Birthday party raises funds for Bethlehem Center

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Executive Director Ted Bullock, Claire Lee Overmyer and Riley Harris, from left, pose with children at the Bethlehem Center last week.

Wearing their finest dresses and donning masks, Riley Harris and her friends celebrated her birthday with an extravagant masquerade ball in early November.

But instead of presents wrapped in shiny paper, the Loftis Middle School student asked for donations for Chattanooga’s Bethlehem Center.

“It’s just something I started doing because I thought it was a good thing to do,” Riley said. “It gives me a good feeling to know I can help out and give back.”

Riley started the tradition when she was 8 years old, said her mother, Laura Harris.

“She has always had this big heart. And I was so worried that first time when she did this because I thought, ‘What happens if she gets, like, two dollars,’” Harris said. “But after that first party, she got so excited and counted all of her money to donate to people.”

Riley and her mother stopped by the Bethlehem Center last week, big check in hand. Riley and her friends raised $550 for the center, which will help with literacy programs, said president of the board Claire Lee Overmyer.

“It’s so great, because this will all go to helping other kids, especially in the literacy program,” Overmyer said. “It’s just a really nice thing she did.”

As Riley smiled and posed with community children who use the center’s literacy programs, her mother and father stood back and smiled. Riley shared a poster of photos from her party with the group, all signed by her friends who donated to the center.

“I just think it’s an important thing to do for other people,” Riley said.