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Schinnell Leake

Birthdays go unnoticed in shelters. Our hero is changing that.

March 14, 2019

“Children’s birthdays are a great opportunity to make kids feel special,”   says Schinnell Leake, an events planner who created birthday parties for years. “But I started to think about homeless families. What about those kids? Those parents want to celebrate their children, too.”

In 2010, Schinnell evolved her business into a non-profit. Nine years later, Extra-Ordinary Birthdays has produced more than 800 individual birthday parties in nine different homeless shelters in the Maryland-DC area.

“We create a sense of self-worth for these children, through an individualized party. Their name is on the banner and the cake. They’re handing out invitations to their friends in the shelter, and to family members. We’re creating a sense of normalcy for them.”

New families who arrive at participating shelters receive a questionnaire about their children. Parents and kids work together to create a wish list, and select their own birthday cake and theme. (Schinnell says “superhero princess”   is very popular right now.)

Their choices are forwarded to Extra-Ordinary Birthdays, and Schinnell’s team of volunteers spring into action, creating decorations, activities and birthday cakes to each child’s specifications.

Parents also receive a crucial dose of self-worth.

Extra-Ordinary Birthdays

“The opportunity to make decisions is rare for homeless parents. It’s difficult to feel like they’re leading their families. But here they get to envision what their child’s party will look like, and they host guests and enjoy. One mom told me she’d never had the chance to cut into a cake for her child before, and that’s important. No matter their circumstances, a parent wants to celebrate her child.”

Schinnell says her “charity gene”   comes from her own mother.

“She kept what she called ‘blessing money’ in the car. When she saw a homeless person, she would hand it out. Now, creating connections with this community feels very natural and innate in me.”

Schinnell is grateful she’s found her way of making a difference, and encourages everyone to look for opportunities to help.

“I saw a need—for children to be recognized—and then I delivered the solution with my specific background and skills. The need will speak to you. You just have to stay open.”

Help Schinnell inspire hope, ignite self-worth, and transform lives through birthday parties at http://extraordinarybirthdays.org

If you know a Hometown Hero who should be in the Pay It Backward spotlight, email krista@payitbackward.love