In January, Paige Chenault celebrated a different kind of birthday.
It wasn’t her own or her daughter Lizzie’s, but for her other baby, The Birthday Party Project, which turned 4 years old at the turn of the new year. TBPP is the nonprofit Chenault founded with a mission to throw exceptional celebrations once a month for homeless children in shelters. The irony of a birthday party for The Birthday Party Project is not lost on her.
“We have one fundraiser every year in Dallas, so why not use it to throw our own birthday party?” asks Chenault, who grew the organization from incubation to inspiration in major cities around the country. “It was ‘Saturday Night Live’-themed,” she reveals. “Eight hundred of our closest supporters and friends dressed up like every SNL character you could imagine, and we raised a record amount of money for the organization.”
Those funds will go toward bringing birthday parties to homeless children in Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Minneapolis, New York City and San Francisco. Right now, TBPP throws 20 parties per month. With the money raised, it will be able to do 36 parties per month in 2016. The funds will also help to launch new TBPP outposts in Atlanta, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and more. “Those communities need joy,” says Chenault. “We have people on the ground there willing and able to [get started].”
In a nondescript building north of downtown Dallas, Chenault moves through rows and rows of shelves housing hundreds of unwrapped kids’ toys and clear bins, each properly labeled, organized and brimming with decorations. She is at home among event decor and party props, having been an event planner for a decade before starting The Birthday Party Project.
“I did love being part of people’s celebrations and special moments,” she says. “I considered it a great privilege and had wonderful clients.” However, with a close-knit client base built exclusively on referrals came an immense responsibility for Chenault to say yes more than she should have. “I would book between 20 and 40 events per year and work all week and weekends too. It was hard to find a balance,” she admits.
The year Chenault was pregnant, she had 32 events on her calendar. Although she was thrilled she had turned her event company into a multimillion-dollar business, that difficult year became the catalyst that inspired her to follow new dreams. “I’m a people-pleaser, and that comes with a great deal of personal sacrifice,” she says, pausing to laugh before asking, “Why are women like that?”
Reading a magazine article about kids’ birthday parties, Chenault began daydreaming about how she could use her event planning skills to create amazing soirees for her unborn daughter.
“I couldn’t wait to throw the kinds of parties where my daughter would feel incredibly celebrated year after year,” she recalls. Feeling joyful at the thought, Chenault turned the page. The next article she read was about children in Haiti who didn’t have shoes, shelter or water—much less a family. When she realized there were children in her own community who would never feel praise the way her own child would, the idea for The Birthday Party Project was born.
“I’m a preacher’s kid,” she explains, “and I know God provides. I firmly believe when we least expect it and most need it, the message comes through.” Chenault says she felt the “fire in her belly”—aka the gut feeling that came with the original idea for TBPP—was “completely ordained.” She followed that call and hasn’t looked back since. “We hear those voices that urge,” she says, “but for some reason intuition is so hard for us to discern and act on. I tell people to take steps to free up whatever that intuition feels like [for them].”
The Birthday Party Project’s success didn’t happen overnight. For a few years, Chenault, ever the people-pleaser, struggled with “how to say no to things that would allow me to say yes to the right things,” she says.
She straddled both worlds for a while, keeping one foot in her highly profitable event business and one foot in the joyous world of TBPP. For the first two years Chenault worked and volunteered for TBPP, she didn’t take an income. “I hired two employees before I ever wrapped up my events company and came on full time,” she shares.
Now, five TBPP team members work for the mission in Dallas. “They believe in what we do. They bring heart and joy; they are the reason we’re so successful,” she says.
When TBPP contemplates coming to a new city and shelter, Chenault and her team make sure, above all else, they can serve that community with excellence. “We won’t jump in until we have the people and the financial support to make sure the market runs well,” she says. She knows how disappointing it can be for the children if they come once and never show up again. Chenault or someone on her team will fly out to visit several shelters, meet with the donors and then choose one with which to partner before beginning the planning process.
Wondering what a Birthday Party Project party is like? “Our parties are one hour of pure, chaotic joy,” says Chenault. The little kids who come are excited—mostly about the cupcakes—and run in to great fanfare and disperse to activity stations ranging from face painting to balloon animals to dress-up areas.
“My favorite [activity] is to line up each kid who has a birthday that month and call them out by name,” she says. “Everyone is together and sings happy birthday. It’s the best two hours of your month and you can see the impact you are having on these children.”
The Conference Connection
>>> Catalyst, a conference for leaders who love the church, has been a great supporter of The Birthday Party Project, as has The Rising Tide Society, an education community for creative entrepreneurs. These organizations make TBPP a beneficiary of their conferences or bring donations to Birthday Enthusiasts in different cities. >>> Because Chenault often planned weddings as an event professional, Engage, a luxury wedding summit, has become one of TBPP’s biggest supporters. >>> National Association of Catering Executives, Society of Wedding Professionals and Association of Club Catering Professionals have also been tremendous supporters of the nonprofit. >>> Chenault is often brought in as a speaker or featured at conferences like Leadercast Live, where during its 2015 event, a five-minute video on TBPP with Chenault’s voiceover was played.
[BY THE NUMBERS]
Since launching four years ago:
2,000 birthdays celebrated
16,000 kids in attendance
4,200 Birthday Enthusiasts [volunteers]
16,000 cupcakes eaten
900 "Happy Birthdays" sung
80 percent of funds goes to the parties
[ORGS TO PARTNER WITH NOW]
If you’re holding a conference, meeting or event in one of these cities, check in with The Birthday Party Project to incorporate a giveback opportunity into your agenda.
Chicago San Jose Obrero Mission
Dallas/Fort Worth Buckner Missions Center of Hope City House and My Friend’s House Family Gateway The Family Place Genesis Women's Shelter & Support Interfaith Housing Coalition New Friends New Life Nexus Recovery Center Promise House Ronald McDonald House SafeHaven The Samaritan Inn
Detroit Coalition on Temporary Shelter
Kansas City, Mo. Hope House
Minneapolis People Serving People
New York City Win
San Francisco Hamilton Family Center