At the Engage! conference in December, Paige Chenault spoke on The Birthday Party Project, a non-profit organization she founded. The mission of The Birthday Party Project is to provide joy to homeless children through the magic of birthdays. They partner with agencies and throw monthly parties celebrating all the kids, ages 1-18, who have birthdays that month. The birthday kids get a crown, ribbon, a cake all to themselves (the other kids get cupcakes) and a $30 birthday gift. Here's a quick 5 minute video that shows more of what The Birthday Party Project is all about:
“But it’s such a very special occasion,” mourned Anne, on the verge of tears. “Diana has only one birthday in a year. It isn’t as if birthdays were common things, Marilla.” -- Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables
This organization's mission resonates with me for so many reasons. The first is that I LOVE birthdays. I think Anne Shirley's quote above sums it up pretty well. Birthdays are a day to celebrate a person and remind them that they matter not because of what they do or do not have but because they simply exist. In a culture that is so obsessed with to-do lists and bigger is better and what have you done for me lately, it is nice to take a day and say "you are enough as is and we love you for it and we are going to celebrate the fact that you are part of our lives." Yep, birthdays are pretty awesome.
The second reason this hits close to my heart is that I am passionate about finding solutions that end the cycle of poverty. Some could argue that The Birthday Party Project isn't changing much of anything, since it's not meeting felt needs (food, clothing, shelter, jobs, etc), but I disagree. The cycle of poverty is much more than just finances and economics. It is also tied to access to the arts and education and self-esteem, which cultivates imagination which leads to innovation which leads to long-term change.
All people have a right to live fully not just merely. The Birthday Party Project allows kids to define themselves by who they are, not by their belongings or life situation. It allows them to dream big. It allows them to see themselves as worthy of being celebrated and that perspective helps stoke the fires of imagination and innovation.
The volunteers aka Birthday Enthusiasts at Wednesday's camping-themed birthday party.
Earlier this week I spoke to a great group in Dallas on generational mindset and afterward I stayed a couple days in order to take a look at The Birthday Party Project from every angle. I was able to meet a few of the board members, see the new offices that The Birthday Party Project now shares with Ruthie's Rolling Cafe (amazing offices that are designed in a way that makes it impossible to be uncreative), see the storage facility where they keep all of their inventory and in-kind donations, meet some of the volunteers (appropriately named "Birthday Enthusiasts"), and perhaps the most fun -- participate in one of January's birthday parties.
The Birthday Party Project is not a rinky dink little feel good project. It is a full-blown NGO with processes and best practices (including background checks on all volunteers) and angel investors. They are very strategic in their plans for growth and opening in other cities. They receive inquiries every single day from people asking how they can bring The Birthday Party Project to their city. Paige and her team know that if they grow too quickly without the right foundation it will end up hurting the kids. They're not in this for the fame or the pats on the back, but to truly change lives, and that's something they are not willing to compromise on. I'll do another post soon with Paige discussing some of their strategy. It truly is fascinating.
In the meantime, you can get involved through an initiative called Share Your Birthday. Share Your Birthday was started by fellow Engage!12 alum Jacin Fitzgerald. The idea is that on your birthday you share the joy. You can do this by purchasing party supplies off The Birthday Party Project's wish list and shipping it to them; making a financial donation; asking everyone attending your birthday to bring party supplies or a donation in lieu of or in addition to a gift if they're able; taking your kids and their friends to Target, giving them each some money and letting them pick out which party supplies or gifts to give; and so on. Truly your imagination is the limit when it comes to sharing your birthday.
The official hashtag for the Share Your Birthday initiative is #shareyourbirthday and the official hashtag for The Birthday Party Project is #givingisgood. You can also follow The Birthday Party Project's official Twitter account at @bdayenthusiast.