African American Homeless, African American Poverty, African American Economics, Black Poverty, Black Homelessness, Extraordinary Birthdays, KOLUMN Magazine, KOLUMN

How Do You Throw a Birthday Party When a Child Is Homeless?


Stephany Cruz’s son, Jeremiah, who just turned 8, was thrilled by the face painting, games and pizza at his recent birthday party. It was especially thrilling because Ms. Cruz and her son were homeless at the time and living at a Win homeless shelter in Manhattan.

“He’s been counting down the days for this,” said Ms. Cruz, 27. “He was like, ‘Look at my invitation! It has my name on it!’ He was so excited.”

Jeremiah was not the only one blowing out candles at the party. An organization called the Birthday Party Project throws a monthly party for all the children at the shelter who have birthdays that month. The organization operates at more than 25 other shelters in cities across the country, offering party themes like monster mash or petting zoo.

African American Homeless, African American Poverty, African American Economics, Black Poverty, Black Homelessness, Extraordinary Birthdays, KOLUMN Magazine, KOLUMN An organization called the Birthday Party Project throws a party every month for all the children celebrating birthdays at the East River Family Center in Manhattan and more than 25 other shelters in major cities, with themes like monster mash or petting zoo.

African American Homeless, African American Poverty, African American Economics, Black Poverty, Black Homelessness, Extraordinary Birthdays, KOLUMN Magazine, KOLUMN

African American Painter, African American Artists, African American Art, African American News, KOLUMN Magazine, KOLUMNHenry Taylor, “Warning Shots not required” (2011), installation view of ‘Non-fiction’ at The Underground Museum (image courtesy The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, photo by Justin Lubliner)

African American Homeless, African American Poverty, African American Economics, Black Poverty, Black Homelessness, Extraordinary Birthdays, KOLUMN Magazine, KOLUMN


Schinnell Leake has always enjoyed creating events that are special and unique—parties that both children and adults remember.

As the former owner of Extra-Ordinary Moments, a for-profit entity that provided imaginative and unique children’s birthday parties, she set out to provide the same types of birthday parties for children who were experiencing homelessness in the Washington metropolitan area.

As a mother, Schinnell knows how important it is for her children to feel confident and have self-worth. After learning that more than 2,000 children live in homeless shelters throughout the Washington, D.C. area, Schinnell started the nonprofit, Extra-Ordinary Birthdays, the only organization of its kind in the capital area that throws personalized birthday parties for homeless children to make them feel recognized and valued. Using her party-planning background, Schinnell has thrown more than 400 birthday parties and currently partners with eight homeless shelters in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.