On a flight from Dallas, Texas, to Cincinnati, Ohio, to visit a friend in 2008, event planner Paige Chenault daydreamed about the elaborate birthday parties she’d throw for her daughter one day. (Paige was five months pregnant at the time.) Then, flipping through a magazine, she saw a photo of an impoverished Haitian boy, his belly bloated. “I thought, This kid has nothing,” Paige says.
The image stayed with her, and she resolved to do something to help. “I decided I would use my talents to throw birthday parties for homeless kids,” Paige says.
For the next four years, Paige and her husband, Colin, took time out from parenthood to visit shelters to determine how best to pull off the parties.
Finally, in January 2012, Paige launched the Birthday Party Project, a nonprofit organization, and recruited friends and family to help decorate Dallas’s 75-occupant Family Gateway Shelter with balloons and streamers, celebrating the birthdays of 11 boys and girls, with 60 more homeless kids in attendance. “That first party was better than I could have ever imagined,” says Paige.
Now Paige and her staff of three paid employees work with regional volunteers, aka “birthday enthusiasts,” to plan monthly themed parties at 15 shelters across the country, some of which house abused or abandoned kids. Each child celebrating a birthday that month gets a $30 gift, a decorative place mat, and an individual cake or cupcake.
One of Paige’s favorite parts of each party is when the kids make a wish and blow out the candles. “They rarely get a chance to dream big,” says Paige.
Her daughter, Lizzie, now seven, often helps out at the parties. Paige says, “The one thing I’ve always wanted is for my kid to be generous.”
Donate or volunteer for the Birthday Party Project here.