Birthday celebrations are not always affordable, and many homeless parents do not have the resources to celebrate this milestone. But they matter to kids who may not have a permanent home or many special family moments they can call their own.
This struck a chord with Schinnell Leake, a professional event planner in College Park, MD. As a mom, she knows what it means to children to have a party. So she looked at her experience as an event planner and thought “Why can’t I take what I do and do it for children?” She started Extra-Ordinary Birthdays, recognizing that a simple day of celebration is on the bottom of the priority list and often unattainable for homeless families. It is the only organization in the Washington, D.C., area with a mission focused on birthday celebrations for homeless children.
“I realized the importance of birthday celebrations that put the child in the spotlight and made them feel special and great about themselves,” Schinnell says. “Through my various community work, I came to experience that children living in shelters want the same thing—the privilege other children enjoy on their special day–to feel loved, important and valued.”
Together with her crew of volunteers, Schinnell supports homeless parents and their children by bringing all the elements of normalcy and joy that a birthday celebration can provide. Schinnell and her team meet with parents at homeless shelters to plan each birthday party and customize the experience so the parents and children get to choose a party theme and a cake. This approach gives the parents a sense of ownership and helps make them the heroes in the eyes of their children.
Celebrations include a birthday cake, decorations, snacks, supplies and fun games and activities. Schinnell says the hands-on craft activities and physical activities they lead at the parties may sometimes be the only opportunities the children get inside the shelter to create art and get their bodies moving.
Extra-Ordinary Birthdays has hosted 125 parties at homeless shelters in the past year. Through the celebration of each child’s birthday, volunteers become part of a wonderful opportunity to create a moment that will become a positive part of their lifetime of memories.
According to Schinnell, the popular themes her crew has delivered for kids have been Hello Kitty, Dora the Explorer, Little Mermaid, Disney Princesses and Cars … and even a wrestling theme, which she admitted required a little more research among her volunteers to pull off the event.
She describes how her basement at home is spilling over with balloons, decorations and toys she and her team have stockpiled, and how her husband had to give up a portion of his “man cave” to make room for all the party supplies. However, Schinnell’s ultimate goal would be that Extra-Ordinary Birthdays is no longer needed because there are no more homeless children.
Says Schinnell, “For us, it is an opportunity to connect with a child from a place of joy – not their circumstance – as the child experiences how special and valued they truly are.”
Help Schinnell Leake and Extra-Ordinary Birthdays bring more resources to their cause by voting throughout November in the “4:inspiration” competition from unite4:good, which works to inspire positive, global change through acts of kindness.