Story and photos by Jan Osborn.
Paige Chenault and The Birthday Party Project (TBPP) have become well-known in the Dallas area since they celebrated their first birthday party in honor of children experiencing homelessness in 2012. Over the past eight years, Paige, the self-described Chief Birthday Enthusiast, has spread birthday joy to over 12,000 birthdays with 65,000 children and 33,000 volunteers in 15 cities across the United States.
We first met Paige Chenault in 2012 and were impressed with her vision, her energy, and how she could bring excitement into any room she entered. Over the past eight years we have watched The Birthday Party Project grow, even as Paige has become the face of spreading joy. This past Friday evening, we had the pleasure to celebrate with Paige and her team at Interfaith Family Services. As usual, we were inspired and touched by the love and smiles Paige and the other enthusiasts shared with these special kids. However, what really stood out on this particular cold, rainy evening was how TBPP is a family affair for the Chenaults. Eleven year old Lizzie walked into the room carrying a large container of birthday decorations and immediately began working her magic. Colin, Lizzie’s dad (and Paige’s husband), followed suit. When Paige walked in the room she individually thanked each of the volunteers for their participation in making a memorable experience for these kids. At the conclusion of the party, Paige and her enthusiasts hugged each of the kids and told them they will see them next month. Dallas Doing Good took this opportunity to visit with Paige about TBPP and some of her favorite memories.
Tell us about where you grew up and how giving back was a part of your family dynamic.
I grew up in Oklahoma, daughter of a Methodist Minister and the most generous mother. We didn’t have much growing up-but we always found ways to give to others. Whether through tithe, through time, or through acts of meeting the needs of our community, my family taught me how important it was to care for others. Looking back, it’s clear that we were also the product of others’ generosity, and I’m so grateful.
Would you share your story of how you started The Birthday Party Project and how it has grown?
In 2008, I had a booming business. I planned over 35 events that year and my sales were higher than they had ever been. I was also pregnant with my daughter Lizzie. I was on a plane visiting a friend. I was reading an article about kids birthday parties dreaming about the types of parties I could create for her. I picked up the next magazine and flipped it open to an image I won’t forget. There was a picture of a little boy standing in the middle of a crowded and dirty street-with all these people around him, no one seemed to actually notice him. It hit me like a ton of bricks-this little boy might never feel celebrated the way I know I can celebrate my daughter. The question “What about him” just kept swirling in my mind. I thought “Someone has got to do something about this. I’m as much a someone as anyone, I”m going to do something about this.:”
I knew I could use my skill set of creating magical celebrations to help celebrate those that might not ever be celebrated. I got home from my trip and told my husband all about this idea. He politely reminded me that I was seven months pregnant, had 30 events on the books-there was no time to start a nonprofit! I knew he was right about the timing-but I also knew that I was supposed to act on my intuition.
Three years later, I still couldn’t shake this idea. I knew we had to do something….and The Birthday Party Project was born!
What stories have most impacted you during your time working with marginalized children?
During a party a few years ago, there was a brother and sister duo both celebrating birthdays that month, with a two year difference in age. Their mother was a victim of human trafficking, and we had the chance to celebrate her children while she received care from New Friends New Life. The brother held his sister’s hand throughout the entire party. Even though he was younger, he made sure she got to experience everything first! When it came time to sing Happy Birthday, they held hands tightly-both grinning from ear to ear. We yelled “Make a Wish!” And the boy turned to his sister and said “ you can have my wish, too”. (Insert all cry emojis here.)
What a gift of generosity and kindness he showed to his sister! I learned so much about the importance of JOY and the importance of being seen and known. Wow.
When did you first encounter the world of social justice?
I first encountered the importance of social justice in middle school. I was fortunate to go to Carver Middle School in Tulsa, which was a magnet school that brought together students of all backgrounds to learn. Thankfully, this place opened my eyes to the inequities of my classmates, and shaped my compassion and helped me develop an eagerness to understand another point of view. From hearing Mrs. King speak, to volunteering in the surrounding neighborhood-the experiences there taught me that building community is possible if we’re willing to show up with a posture of kindness, understanding, and grace.
What was the catalyst for starting The Birthday Party Project?
How can people support your work and get involved?
We love to have birthday enthusiasts (volunteers) join us for our monthly celebrations! In Dallas, we have 15 opportunities every month to connect with amazing kids and their families. We also offer volunteer opportunities at our headquarters! From wrapping presents, filling favor bags, and organizing toys-it’s the most fun you can have during a volunteer time! www.thebirthdaypartyproject.org
What inspires you?
I am so inspired by people who are willing to use their talents to serve others. I believe we’ve all been given a unique set of gifts-and that each of us can use those gifts to do good in this world. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, and big move, or a huge sacrifice. It can quite literally be just saying YES to the nudge you feel to act. After all, playing small doesn’t really serve the world, does it?
The Birthday Party Project will be celebrating their eighth birthday on Saturday, January 25 at The Bomb Factory to raise funds to further the mission of bringing JOY to children experiencing homelessness through the MAGIC of birthday parties! For more information, go to thebirthdaypartyproject.org.
If you know someone who is Doing Good in Dallas, we’d love to hear about it! Share their story with us.