A birthday party is a lasting memory for children, but one many homeless kids across the nation never get the opportunity to celebrate. Enter Paige Chenault of Dallas, who has brought the joy of childhood in more than 1,600 birthdays with more than 15,000 youngsters through her Birthday Party Project.
It’s an innovative work of love that has drawn nationwide attention, including a video salute from actor Ashton Kutcher.
It all started when Chenault was pregnant. It was exciting for her to think about how she would celebrate her daughter’s birthday parties. She couldn’t wait to make wonderful memories on those special days.
After all, Chenault’s background is in wedding and event planning — making people’s special days magical has always been her specialty. Even as a kid she tended to enjoy celebrating other people’s birthdays more than her own.
Chenault was flipping through a magazine when she encountered something that made her stomach drop — an article about impoverished Haitian children who were struggling to survive. They’d never get the opportunity to feel special, to have a birthday celebration like the ones she was already dreaming about for her daughter. This realization hit her like a ton of bricks and sparked an idea: What if she threw birthday parties for kids who wouldn’t otherwise get them?
“In one hour, we have the opportunity to bring communities of people together that might otherwise not interact.” — Paige Chenault
Founded in 2012, the Birthday Party Project has a simple premise: to celebrate homeless children’s birthday parties via themed bashes staffed by volunteers (otherwise known as “birthday enthusiasts”).
“In one hour, we have the opportunity to bring communities of people together that might otherwise not interact. During our time together, stereotypes and stigmas go away. We’re all there for one reason: to celebrate the lives of children,” Chenault told Dallas Innovates. “Children who need joy during their time of crisis. Children who deserve magic when they are suffering trauma. When we’re all there, singing ‘Happy Birthday’ at the top of our lungs, there is a feeling of joy and community that is such a powerful source of strength.”
The parties are usually hosted at homeless shelters or transitional living facilities. Volunteers arrive early to bedeck the party area with colored streamers, balloons, and “Happy Birthday” banners. They stuff bags full of party favors and line up the presents. The rest of the décor is assembled according to the party’s theme — for a carnival-themed party, for example, volunteers would set up game and face-painting booths.
Once the decorations are complete, the excited children come pouring in. Volunteers play games, apply temporary tattoos, give out party hats, and of course, have a blast with the kids. Some parties feature arts and crafts, some feature games — all feature cupcakes and singing of the “Happy Birthday” song. The birthday boys and girls each receive a $30 gift from the Birthday Party Project. That gift might be a doll, Legos, or a race car.
“After all, joy changes lives!” — Paige Chenault
The Birthday Party Project runs on volunteer help, donations of both money and party supplies, and a program called, “Share Your Birthday,” which invites people to create a website and use provided promotional materials to raise money or gifts for the Project via their own special day. About 90 percent of all donations received by the Birthday Party Project go directly toward throwing the parties.
The Birthday Party Project just celebrated its own fourth birthday in January. Currently, it hosts 19 birthday parties in eight U.S. cities, but Chenault can’t wait for it to grow.
“Because of the incredible support of our birthday enthusiasts, we have big goals in 2016,” Chenault says. “By the end of this year, we hope to host 36 parties in 11 cities around the country. After all, joy changes lives!”
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