aPOP’s POWER PROFILE: Schinnell Leake, Founder/Executive Director of Extra-Ordinary Birthdays

Schinnell Leakes and volunteers
Schinnell (L), Janet (M), and Caron (R). Copyright, aplaceofpower.com. All rights reserved.

Recently, I had the awesome privilege of meeting and interviewing Ms. Schinnell Leake during an Extra-Ordinary Birthdays (EOBirthdays) event, held at the New Beginning Temporary Family Shelter in Washington D.C.

Schinnell is the Founder & Executive Director of Extra-Ordinary Birthdays, a faith-fueled organization committed to “Creating & Providing Birthday Parties for Homeless Children.” Schinnell’s fervor and enthusiasm were palpable. After being warmly received with a smile and embrace, I was fortunate enough to witness the impact of Extra-Ordinary Birthdays transformative service firsthand. Schinnell’s creative ingenuity and zeal helped brightened the day of two very special little girls, who were made to feel like they were the star of a dream realized.

I truly hope you are inspired by Schinnell’s interview and a collection of stories that touched my heart.

MEET SCHINNELL…

1) aPOP: What prompted you to serve in this capacity?

Schinnell: I have always been involved in some type of community service and over the past several years really with the homeless community through adopting a family during the holidays and making lunches in January as part of MLK Service Day. I have always enjoyed creating events that are special and unique—parties that both children and adults remember. As the former owner of a company that provided imaginative and unique children’s birthday parties, I set out to donate the same types of birthday parties for children who were experiencing homelessness in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and so created Extra-Ordinary Birthdays.

2) aPOP: What is one of your more memorable moments?

Schinnell: When a family came into the shelter at the last minute and we pulled together a celebration for the child on the spot including a gift. The child was so happy. She thought she was not going to get a birthday party and went around and hugged all of the EOB volunteers and said it was the best birthday.

3) aPOP: What age range do you target? How do you locate families in need?

Schinnell: We provide personalized birthday parties for children ages 1 to 12 and a birthday cake and gift card for ages 13-18. We partner with area shelters and organizations that serve the community of homeless families.

4) aPOP: Do you host recurring parties annually for the children you serve?

Schinnell: It depends on the shelter and its program. They run the gamut from a domestic violence shelter where families are there 30 days, another shelter the families are there a maximum of three months to another shelter the families may be there for as long as two to five years through a transition program.

5) aPOP: How can others help or support Extra-Ordinary Birthdays?

Schinnell: The biggest support like most small nonprofits is financial followed by in-kind donations and services. Right now our biggest need is space and a van. Since we are working with more shelters, that requires a pull on our limited resources. Because we not providing something that can be measured per se, the usual funding streams are a challenge for us. With the birthday celebrations, we provide party activities and supplies, healthy snacks, a birthday cake, a gift based on their wish list and a personal photo book. We are not giving the families homes nor are we feeding them every day. What we are giving them is a moment of normalcy, a moment where they can celebrate life despite their circumstances and a moment where a child can feel valued and that they matter.

6) aPOP: Do the families appreciate your services? What feedback have you received?

Schinnell: The families do appreciate what we do for the most part. When we first started, a lot of them could not believe that we were doing something like this. The families were used to being disappointed or let down so this seemed like another thing that they shouldn’t get their hopes up about. We provide an evaluation form at the conclusion of the parties that the parents can complete if they choose. About 85% complete them and a majority of the feedback through that tells us that we are on the right track. It is difficult as a parent to realize and acknowledge that they may not be able to provide a birthday party for their child because of their circumstances. The most important question we want to know about on the form is not the rating scale but the question: “What are two things you and your child will remember about this celebration?” Answers like, they felt special, their child had fun, the decorations, the gift that the child wanted, the volunteers that made them happy, are all part of us enabling homeless parents to create a day of celebration for their kids. What could be more uplifting than a celebration and a day to not only have a healthy snack and enjoy an activity with other kids, but to know that, as a child, even though you do not have a permanent home, that your parent cares about celebrating your milestones?

7) aPOP: You are an inspiration. What would you tell other women about starting an organization and your experience serving the community?

Schinnell: To be open to explore all possibilities that interests them and a willingness to learn along the way. If you are interested in serving the community, you should look to serve from a place of humbleness and not for any gratitude on the part of the recipients.

8) aPOP: What is your ultimate vision for Extra-Ordinary Birthdays?

Schinnell: As long as the issue of family homelessness exists in this area, my ultimate vision is to host more birthday celebrations each year. I currently work with multiple shelters and am looking at opportunities to grow the program and recognize more children in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area.

9) aPOP: Do you have any upcoming events? When and where?

Schinnell: Our birthday celebrations take place the last Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of every month. This month, due to the Thanksgiving holiday, we will be holding the celebrations a week earlier. Currently we are working with four shelters: two in DC and two in Maryland. We will be adding a third shelter in DC in 2015 and looking to partner with shelters in Virginia as well.

10) aPOP: How can we get/stay in touch with Extra-Ordinary Birthdays?

Schinnell:

 

MEET CARON, JANET, DAVID AND DANA…

Caron and Janet

During my visit, I also met two new volunteers for EOBirthdays. Both were actively engaged with the children and brought their own flavor of enthusiasm to the event.
Caron sought volunteer opportunities with EOBirthdays because she had a compelling desire to “give back.” Homeless families resonated with her, as she was once homeless caring for an infant, toddler, and seemingly ensnared in an unfruitful marriage. Caron has since rebuilt her life through faith, family & community support, and sheer determination.

Janet expressed a love for children, often babysitting for family members. The opportunity to serve in two areas that she thoroughly enjoys, birthdays and children, is ideal.

David and his daughters
David and his beautiful daughters Alexis (6), left and Kayla (7), right. Copyright, aplaceofpower.com. All rights reserved.
David

David is a temporary resident of New Beginning, facing the both the joys and challenges of parenting two daughters as a single father. From Richmond, David traveled to New Orleans during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina to pursue employment. There is where he met his daughters’ mother.

After his then companion, exhibited behaviors and pursued a lifestyle that wasn’t conducive to raising children in a healthy environment, David chose to raise his daughters on his own. With the assistance of New Beginning, David was able to gain part-time employment and is actively working to transition his family into a space they can call their own.

During our discussion, David’s love for his daughters was evident. It was apparent that though his journey as a single parent, in transition, with little support is extremely difficult, his two little girls remain his principal focus, motivation, and heart.

David shared that his very determined and clever little girls are more cooperative during Extra-Ordinary Birthdays. smile Miss Alexis seemed to enjoy her exquisitely beautiful cake provided by Baking Memories, the high-heel hustle, and other special treats during her Princess and the Frog themed birthday party.

 Kissing her little sister Schinnell helping with the high heel hustle  playing cards
Kayla kissing her sister Alexis, the birthday girl. (L) Schinnell helping Kayla get ready for the high-heel hustle. (C) Schinnell paying cards with the girls. (R) Copyright, aplaceofpower.com. All rights reserved.
Dana and her daughter
Dana and her adorable daughter Jasiya (4). Copyright, aplaceofpower.com. All rights reserved.
Dana

Twenty-four year old Dana, transitioned from DC General homeless shelter to New Beginning a few months ago. She is raising two children, Jasiya (4) and Malachi (8), with the active involvement of her children’s father. Strained relationships and conflict with her family influenced Dana’s decision to seek residence in D.C. areas shelters. Energized by her love of animals, Dana plans to pursue Veterinary Assistant opportunities, having recently completed a certificate program.

Her daughter, Jasiya, was the guest of honor and a HUGE FAN of the movie Frozen. To her delight, Schinnell kept the song, “Let It Go” on heavy rotation and Jasiya was able to engage in theme related activities, like the “Snowball Stomp” and “Snowball Hockey.”

ExtraOrdinary Birthdays Party
Dana, Jasiya, and the EOBirthdays volunteers playing snowball hockey. Copyright, aplaceofpower.com. All rights reserved.

Dana explained that contrary to her quiet demeanor during the party, Jasiya is extremely talkative at home. The celebration was actually her second Frozen themed birthday party, for which Mom bought every Frozen decoration the store offered. The reason why was obvious to us…Jasiya’s absolute cuteness captured all of our hearts.

Princess moment
Jasiya wearing her snowflake glasses and holding her Frozen gift box. Copyright, aplaceofpower.com. All rights reserved.
child with toy
Jasiya holding her new toy. Copyright, aplaceofpower.com. All rights reserved.

“I created Extra-Ordinary Birthdays to cultivate a vision of a community that recognizes the transformative power of birthday celebrations for homeless children that empowers their caregivers and inspires moments of joy and happiness in the lives of homeless families. 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.”Schinnell Leake

Schinnell is accessing her PLACE OF POWER by living beyond herself and positively impacting her community through her gifts. She boldly pursues her passion, with limited means, and few guarantees. By faith, Schinnell trusts that doors will continue to open, resources will continue to be provided, and volunteers are already sent. Her impact in the community reminds us of how important it is to live on purpose and pursue our passion.

Please strongly consider donating to her efforts, either through donations, space, or time. She’s doing incredible work!

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  • Ashley

    How encouraging this is. I definitely enjoyed reading but felt inspired as well. “Serve from a place of humbleness and not for any gratitude on the part of the recipients”. I will always keep this in the forefront. Wonderful article…we need to hear more about people doing great things as this in the community.

    December 1st, 2014 8:21
    01
  • Sherrie

    Absolutely Ashley! Schinnell said to me that one of her participant’s parents conveyed that a moment of normalcy is so valued and appreciated because once you are in the system, your reminded of it constantly. I love what Schinnell is doing in reinforcing the importance of celebrating and affirming our children and helping other parents in times of hardship. We are the village.

    December 1st, 2014 9:31
    02

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