Area Volunteers Bring Birthdays to Kids

Area Volunteers Bring Birthdays to Kids
The Birthday Project executive director Lara Gaither celebrates with a birthday girl. (Photo courtesy of Jason Janik Photography)

Imagine growing up without knowing the joy of birthday parties — no presents, songs, cake, balloons, or streamers. For most Preston Hollow families, picturing a life without this basic, childhood memory is unheard of. But not so far from the hollow, many children experience just that.

That’s why a team of area volunteers has banded together to make a difference in the lives of Dallas children, thanks to The Dallas Foundation’s Good Works Under 40 Award.

“Dallas is such a model philanthropically with time, energy, and resources,” Preston Hollow resident and advisory committee member Loren Koziol said. “It brings a sense of community.”

Committee members — carefully selected individuals who have already proven their commitment to service — are responsible for finding five finalists for the award, including one winner overall.

Loren Koziol and Stephen Holley
Loren Koziol and Stephen Holley

“This particular committee, for one, rewards people that aren’t asking to be rewarded,” Hillcrest High School graduate and committee member King Scovell said. “I always thought that was unique.”

This year, the committee kicked off its search by partnering with The Birthday Project and Family Gateway to provide a birthday party for children who otherwise don’t have the opportunity. Many of them are homeless, or simply from impoverished homes.

“It was chaos in a really good way,” Park Cities resident and committee member Courtney Underwood said. “They covered themselves up in temporary tattoos, cake, and ice cream.”

Underwood won the award in 2011 for her work with the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center and the SANE Initiative. She said the group fills a niche that is sometimes forgotten by others.

“There’s a tendency to overlook young volunteers because you’re trying to develop your career, so sometimes we lose focus,” Underwood said. “We don’t always honor the young people who are taking the time to volunteer.”

For the three children from Family Gateway with July birthdays, there were presents, cake, singing, and writing letters to troops with the volunteers.

“The kids just absolutely have a blast when they come,” Family Gateway volunteer coordinator Kathy Kidwell said. “Their faces light up.”

Kidwell explained that many of these children are unable to have birthday parties normally, because their parents are working to provide basic needs.

“Spreading joy is their primary mission,” outgoing board member and Ruthie’s Rolling Café owner Ashlee Hunt Kleinert said. “The Birthday Party Project has made a difference in our community by celebrating the lives of innocent children who are otherwise forgotten and not in a position to have a birthday noted or celebrated.”

Kleinert is just one of many notable board members; former Texas Ranger Ian Kinsler and his wife, Tess, have also served.

“We brought amazing community volunteers and leaders and allowed them to use their talents and passion to give back to the kids at Family Gateway,” The Birthday Party Project founder and 2013 award finalist Paige Chenault said.

With the birthday party as a perfect kickoff for the selection process, board members can now look forward to announcing their selection of leaders at Old Parkland on Nov. 3.

“It doesn’t take much effort to give back,” Chenault said. “But it does take caring hands and compassionate hearts to truly make a difference, and this team did just that.”

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