Candles lit on a birthday cake waiting for your wish while everyone sings in your honor — it’s a classic and important childhood memory. But not all children get to have those kinds of magical moments. Enter The Birthday Party Project (TBPP), brainchild of Paige Chenault who stepped away from her role as a wedding planner to fulfill her goal to “make every child feel known and loved” through the joy of birthday celebrations.
In 2008, Chenault had been a Dallas-based wedding planner for ten years and was enjoying being part of people’s celebrations. She says, “I was a little more than halfway through my event planning career and pregnant with my daughter, Lizzie, when I was on an airplane reading an article about kids bday parties. I got excited thinking about celebrating my own child.” On that same plane ride, she opened another magazine with an article about children in Haiti and one photo of a little boy really stood out to her. “He was dirty, standing in the middle of the street, and I thought, ‘But, what about him?’” she says. She realized that there are children out there who may never feel celebrated and it saddened and inspired her. Chenault describes it as a “fire in my belly moment.”
She decided to use her talent and skills to give back — and started in her own community of Dallas by partnering with a local homeless shelter. It was a grassroots effort that began when she pledged to come to the shelter once every month for a year to celebrate all of the resident children having birthdays that month. Soon her family, friends and even clients were asking how they could get involved. When she shared her mission with the Engage community of luxury wedding planners in 2012, they rallied around the cause and gave TBPP an opportunity to grow outside of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. By 2014, Chenault was running her non-profit full-time.
Now, TBPP hosts 45 parties a month at homeless and transitional living facilities with help from seven employees, an active executive board and ambassadors, and more than 115 party coordinators in 13 cities across the United States. The dedicated team has celebrated more than 6,000 birthdays with 38,000 children in attendance.
So what exactly does one of TBPP’s parties look like? It’s an hour of pure joy, 60 minutes of kids being kids. Before the kids arrive, volunteers decorate with streamers, balloons and banners and set up crafts and games and a table for the birthday celebrants displaying gifts, cards and their own special badges. Then the fun really begins. The kids arrive via TBPP’s signature tunnel entrance — think “London Bridges” without the “falling down” — with festive music blaring. With celebrations for kids anywhere from age 1 to 18, a given party might see 15-100 kids and their parents for crafts and activities. To keep things fresh and fun, every month there’s a new theme across the country: superheroes, magic, carnivals and so on. Themed crafts and games lead into pizza, singing, blowing out candles and a sweet send-off with cupcakes and goody bags for all.
The gift of celebration and recognition comes courtesy of the generous volunteers who give of their time and energy. Chenault says, “This is all possible because of the power of the people who help. Individuals, families or companies can give back just by showing up for an hour or donating a gift, wrapping gifts or collecting party supplies.” In fact, DJ Brian D. creates a monthly Spotify playlist, Oriental Trading sponsors the items in the goody bags and, in many markets, Papa John’s donates the pizzas. For potential volunteers, TBPP is an easy way to offer a little levity to kids who are living a more serious reality.
TBPP has expanded to serve even harder-to-reach kids with their “Birthday in a Box” initiative for children in protective services, unsettled custody situations, foster care or transitional living. Like its name implies, the box contains everything needed for an anytime celebration minus the cake: banner, streamer, balloons, candles, party favor bag and colored pencils to decorate the box itself. Retailer, Target supplied all of the products for the first 1,500 boxes and had their team members fill and ship the boxes. Police officers in many areas can keep the boxes in their trunk to hand out when appropriate.
The Birthday Party Project has a mission that continues to grow — expanding to new centers and cities to spread birthday joy to children all over the United States. There are numerous ways you can help from donating your time to providing resources. Visit TBPP website to learn more.
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