"These celebrations are so much more than a party. These are loud exclamation points that children matter."
"This is a chance for us to take one moment out of our lives to say you're worth celebrating. I think that birthdays matter because we matter. Because people matter." These words come Paige Chenault, founder of The Birthday Party Project. In 2012, the then-pregnant mom and wedding planner was flipping through a magazine reading about kids' birthday parties, when she swapped it for another magazine. "The first image that I came across was an image of a little boy in Haiti," she said. "He was in the middle of a dusty and crowded street and yet he looked all alone. I realized that they're were children in our community that also needed to be celebrated."
With a background in making parties happen, Paige partnered with a local shelter in Dallas, Texas – Family Gateway – and, after committing to some consistency for the children, the seeds of The Birthday Party Project were sown. "Here in Dallas we have a shelter that has 30 rooms so at any given time we have about 120 people living with us," said Ellen Magnis, CEO of Family Gateway. "What we want to introduce or reintroduce for these families is normalcy, play, joy."
Paige calls her volunteers "birthday enthusiasts," and they partner with shelters across the country to throw monthly birthday parties for children that are homeless or in transitional living situations. "Sometimes we hear kids say that this is the only birthday party they've ever had," she said. The organization throws 43 parties per month, and is always growing to celebrate more children in more cities.
The team is also fighting the stigma around homelessness. "I think there is a lot of confusion and misperception around homelessness in general," said Ellen. "What we see with families is they're just like you and me. They are trying to get through their lives and something happens." With streamers, party supplies, cupcakes, and face-painting supplied by The Birthday Party Project, these families get to relax and enjoy being together.
"There are times when people say to us, you're throwing a birthday party, so what," said Paige. "And I'm so glad that I have had the opportunity to witness time and time again the true impact of these one-hour celebrations. These celebrations are so much more than a party. These are loud exclamation points that children matter."