01/23/2019 — A mom from Texas is being celebrated for her efforts to celebrate kids all over the country. Back in 2012, Paige Chenault founded The Birthday Party Project, a non-profit that throws birthday parties for children in homeless shelters. And this year, she was named one of Toyota’s Mothers of Invention. The automaker partners with Women in the World (WITW) to shine a spotlight on and honor female visionaries with the most innovative solutions to today’s most pressing issues around the world.
The path that lead Chenault to creating The Birthday Party Project was clearly one filled with ingenuity—and heart. The former wedding and event planner was pregnant with her first child in 2008 and began thinking about the birthday parties she would throw her daughter. “I was flipping through Parents magazine, actually, and reading an article about kids’ birthday parties,” Chenault tells Parents.com. “This is before Pinterest, of course, and seeing these beautiful images, I was really excited bout how I could celebrate her.”
Moments later, she was reading TIME. “And the first story that I opened to featured a little boy in Haiti and he had no shirt on, no shoes on his feet, sunken eyes, a bloated belly, and I had this overwhelming feeling, and all I could think was, ‘What about him?’ In this moment, I literally had a fire in my belly, a punch in my gut. I was crying hysterically on an airplane, and I remember coming home to my husband, [and] I just said, ‘I feel like I should be celebrating children who might not otherwise feel celebrated and using all the resources we have to do this.'”
Although she was driven to help children all over the globe, she realized that there were children living in her own city who she could ask that same question of: “What about them?” It was then that she first started volunteering at a homeless shelter in Dallas and throwing monthly birthday parties for the kids there.
During that first party, Chenault says she stood in the corner of the room, watching the event unfold and realized it was about so much more than just a birthday celebration. “This is about connection, unity,” she says. “I realized we were onto something great.” Underlining that realization: An 11-year-old boy approached her and said, “Thank you, Ms. Paige. This is the first birthday party I’ve ever had.”
Now, The Birthday Party Project brings parties to homeless shelters every month in 15 cities, including Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC. They’ve partnered with local shelters and agencies in these cities, like A Safe Haven in Chicago and the Salvation Army in Austin.
“I’m so proud of grassroots efforts, and I think that is what’s so powerful about The Birthday Party Project,” Chenault says. “From the beginning, we just used the resources we had at our disposal. Truly, people just rallied around this idea and showed up ready to celebrate kids.”
Chenault’s mission is no doubt one that’s worthy of the accolades it has received, like the driving solutions grant from Toyota’s Mothers of Invention.
That reward is sure to only benefit The Birthday Party Project’s heartwarming cause: to make every child feel like they matter and to be celebrated.