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April 4, 2020
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Olivia Gwiazda of Branford reacts as friends are driven past her home in a surprise birthday motorcade which took place on her 11th birthday, March 23. 

Photo Courtesy Laurie Gwiazda

Olivia Gwiazda of Branford reacts as friends are driven past her home in a surprise birthday motorcade which took place on her 11th birthday, March 23. (Photo courtesy Laurie Gwiazda )

Surprise! Friends Rev Up Birthday Motorcade for Branford 11-Year-Old

Published March 24, 2020

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Some quick thinking and a bunch of good friends and family -- safely distanced by separate vehicles --reved up a special kind of surprise "party" for Branford's Olivia Gwiazda on her 11th birthday yesterday, March 23.

Before COVID-19 changed everything, "...we were going to have a little sleepover party for her birthday," Olivia's mom, Laurie Gwiazda, told Zip06/The Sound.

With the sleepover cancelled and Olivia's birthday approaching, Gwiazda was talking with a friend, Susan Manzo, when they hit on the birthday motorcade idea.

"She called, and we both felt bad that we weren't going to be able to do anything for Olivia's birthday; and she said she was just going to drive by and say 'Happy Birthday'  have some balloons out the window," said Gwiazda. "And we said, 'You know what? Lets call some of her best friends and see if they'll do it, too.'"

Olivia's birthday was the next day. The calls went out that night.

"Everybody said, "Absolutely, we'll be there,'" said Gwiazda, who set a party time of 11 a.m. for everyone to pass by the Gwiazda's home on Evergreen Place.

To set up the surprise for her daughter on the morning of her birthday, Gwiazda suggested Olivia try on her new birthday outfit and step outside to the driveway, so her grandmother could drive by and see her.

"I said we can't go there because of this, but Nonnie wants to see your outfit, so she's going to drive by and look at it," said Gwiazda.

Meanwhile, the motorcade participants, lined up by Gwiazda's sister, were gathering in a nearby parking lot. 

"So Olivia was standing out there thinking she was waiting for just her grandmother to drive by... and then everybody starting coming over the railroad bridge on Bridge Street," said Gwiazda.

Gwiazda captured some great video of Olivia's reaction from the sidewalk as about a dozen cars drove past with horns beeping and friends shouting out birthday wishes. 

"It's finally some good news and it shows that wonderful things are still happening in our neighborhood," said Gwiazda.

This mom is also very happy she captured the moment on video, because her daughter was so surprised, "...she kept covering her face and laughing, and I was afraid she was going to miss it!" Gwiazda said. "It only lasted about five minutes; but she said to me, 'This was the best birthday ever.'"

Gwiazda also shared the video on her Facebook page, with a note that read "...I was worried that her birthday wouldn't be very special with this whole quarantine situation, but with a little help from family and the best friends ever, we were able to make this one of her most memorable birthdays yet! The outpouring of love from family, friends and neighbors just reminded us of what really matters. She didn't need a fancy celebration; her heart was so full when she saw what was planned for her! We can't thank our friends and family enough for making Olivia's day so special!"

Branford Public Schools have been closed since March 16. Like many of her friends, Olivia, a fifth grader at Walsh Intermediate School, is staying connected on Facetime and other digital platforms and even setting up safe-distance "play dates," said Gwiazda.

"The other day we went to her friend's house for a play date, and we sat in the driveway and they sat on the porch, and we just talked," said Gwiazda. "Sometimes they dance or watch each other to see what the other one's doing next. We still try to see each other; just from a distance -- a very safe distance."

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