Birthday parties are supposed to be a childhood rite of passage, one that homeless children often don't get to enjoy. But thanks to one Texas woman's idea, that is beginning to change.
Since 2012, party planner Paige Chenault has thrown birthday parties for kids in homeless shelters. The idea came to her while paging through a party catalog for her daughter Lizzie. She was excited to give her the party of her dreams, but then had a sobering realization: kids whose parents fell on hard times would not get the same experience.
"That's literally the moment a fire lit inside of me, truly a burning feeling in my stomach, and a voice that reassured me I had found my purpose in life," she wrote. "I was going to celebrate the lives of children that needed it most. I was going to throw birthdays for homeless children!"
After three years of research and planning what the new nonprofit would look like, Chenault launched The Birthday Party Project. The organization has taken off since and the team averages about 20 parties a month. This year, they're on track for 180 parties.
"Each month, our birthday enthusiasts (that’s volunteers) arrive to the agency (shelter) and set up a rad, themed birthday bash!" she told A Plus. "We celebrate kids 1-18 that are having a birthday that month, and all the other kids and parents staying at the shelter get to attend the party as well!"
The parties range from petting zoos to cool themes with activities and magicians, each lasting about an hour. The birthday children get a gift valued at $30, a badge and cake.
Homelessness is a huge problem in the United States. In New York City, children in shelters spiked to a record high of 25,000 — on any given night. Forty-two percent of those children are under 6 years old and all of them face incredible difficulties.
Chenault remembers a 13-year-old girl named Karena who was the daughter of a domestic abuse victim — a very common situation in shelters. She was in charge of watching her three younger siblings, so one of Chenault's team members watched them for a bit during the party to let Karena be a kid on her birthday, dancing and playing included.
"Watching her feel the JOY and MAGIC that comes from being celebrated is a moment I'll always remember," Chenault told A Plus.
Most of The Birthday Party Project funding comes from donations, but it also partners with brands to help put on the parties. Ninety percent of the money raised goes towards parties.
It may just be one party, but Chenault believes birthdays to stand for so much more.
"It's validation that every life matters. It's a celebration that no matter what, you are loved," she told A Plus. "It's JOY in it's simplest form."