Concepcion de Leon, October 11, 2016

I’ve always loved a celebration. After my husband, Colin, and I threw an awesome wedding on a small budget in 2005, my boss asked if I’d help a neighbor whose daughter was getting married. I agreed and started getting so many requests to plan other parties that I quit my job to start my own events company.

Fast-forward to 2008: I had $4 million in business and was pregnant with my daughter, Lizzie. Taking a rare day off, I was on a plane to visit a friend, reading an article about birthday parties, and I got excited imagining the Pinterest-worthy bashes I’d throw my child. Then I turned to another magazine. Staring back at me like a smack in the face was an image of a little boy with no shoes on. He was in Haiti, and chaos was everywhere around him. It was like he was staring straight at me—big, wide eyes filled with despair. It was a punch in the gut: What about him? I thought. Who is going to celebrate him the way that I’ll celebrate Lizzie?

When I got home, I immediately told my husband I wanted to do something. He was supportive but also reminded me: “You have 32 events on the books—and by the way, you’re having a baby!” So I tabled the idea. But in my mind I kept seeing that boy.

Then, at Lizzie’s third-birthday party in July of 2011, as I watched the room fill with people who loved her, I thought: Three miles down the road, there are children who will never feel this way. I knew it was time. The next day I got the smartest people I knew in a room to brainstorm, and six months later my husband and I officially launched our nonprofit, The Birthday Party Project. Our first party took place at Family Gateway, an agency that serves homeless families in Dallas. We let the moms know we were coming, and set up tattoo, bracelet-making, and coloring stations. Each of the children who was having a birthday—there were eight that month—got an individual cake with his or her name on it. I will never forget the moment they came in with a look in their eyes that said, “Wait—you’re here for me?” At first I worried that the oldest, Micah, who was turning 11, would think the party was lame. But midway through he started break-dancing!

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