More than 50,000 cupcakes have been eaten since Paige Chenault started The Birthday Party Project in Dallas in 2012. The former event planner leads a team of volunteers in 13 cities to throw monthly celebrations for children in homeless and transitional living facilities. Themes include county fair with a petting zoo, monster mash, superheroes and more. Chenault was inspired with the idea when she was pregnant with her daughter, Lizzie. Her daughter, who attends Wesley Prep, just turned 10 and celebrated her birthday at Mesero at Lovers and Inwood with balloons and cake. Lizzie also shares her birthday with kids at The Birthday Party Project. The family lives at Midway and Northwest Highway.
Why did you start The Birthday Party Project?
As a wedding and event planner, I loved being a part of people’s celebrations. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I started to get excited about celebrating her, knowing that I could throw her over-the-top birthday parties. Around the same time, I read an article about children in Haiti. There was an image of this little boy in the middle of the street. He was impoverished with sunken eyes and a bloated stomach. At that moment, it struck me that there were children who might not be able to celebrate like I could celebrate my daughter. This idea of “How do we celebrate children like that?” started to swirl in my mind, and I couldn’t shake the feeling. That was in 2008. In 2012, we decided to launch The Birthday Party Project in Dallas at Family Gateway.
How big is the project now?
We started with one party a month with 60 kids in attendance. Now we do about 44 parties a month in 13 cities across the country. We celebrate more than 2,000 kids a month.
How many employees do you have?
Eighteen in Dallas. And then we have about 115 party coordinators. These are volunteers that host parties on our behalf. We have birthday enthusiasts, which are volunteers that come and help us celebrate the kids. These are anyone 5 and older — families, single people and corporate groups.
What happens at a typical party?
Each month, we have a theme for every party across the country. We have superheroes or county fair with a petting zoo. We always make sure it’s this larger-than-life experience for the kids. About 30 minutes before the ceremony, our party coordinators come decorate, and then we welcome our kids into the room. We serve pizza to all of the families that are staying at the agency. We have cupcakes donated by various bakeries. The kids come in and divide up. You could have some at the petting zoo, at a dance party or throwing the football. About 45 minutes into the party, we line up our birthday kids, have a cake in front of them, a place mat with their name on it and a gift that’s been purchased especially for them. Each child is called by name, everyone sings “Happy Birthday” and then the child makes a wish.
Are there any personal stories that stand out for you?
One of my favorite stories is about a brother and a sister who were here in Dallas at a domestic violence agency. They were celebrating their birthdays in the same month, and the theme was superheroes. They were running around the party with their capes on, holding hands the entire time. You could tell that this boy was trying to protect and take care of his sister. Everything that they did, he always encouraged her to go first. When it came time to sing “Happy Birthday,” he turned to her and said, “You get to make the first wish.” She leaned in and blew out her candle. He hugged her so tightly and said, “I love you so much, sissy.” And then he blew out his candle, and she hugged him right back. It was this lovely moment.
What are your plans for the project?
We do 13 parties a month in Dallas/Fort Worth. There’s an opportunity to do a few more a month. We also launched an initiative called Birthday in a Box. We’ve partnered with the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center to provide them with birthday boxes to help celebrate kids’ birthdays on the spot. We have big dreams here at The Birthday Party Project. We believe every child deserves to be celebrated.
How can people help?
People can come and celebrate birthdays with us. We love donations and birthday gifts. There’s an opportunity to share your birthday party or you can sponsor a Birthday in a Box.
I thought I saw you recently on a television commercial.
Yes! Cadillac was so generous to us, and they have a project called “Shaping DFW.” They highlighted The Birthday Party Project. So fun!
What’s it been like to be the subject of the national press?
When we got the call to be on the Today show, I squealed like a little girl.
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