As a mother, Schinnell Leake says she knows the importance of children having confidence and a sense of self-worth.
So, when the College Park resident learned that more than 2,000 children live in homeless shelters around the region, she decided to form a nonprofit five years ago named, “Extra-Ordinary Birthdays.”
“I set out to be a part of just bringing joy to children who are faced with homelessness,” Leake said. “In our first year, we probably had about 75 to 80 children that we were doing birthday parties for and each year we partnered with another shelter and it was something that grew tremendously.”
Since her organization’s inception five years ago, Leake says she has arranged more than 400 birthday parties for homeless children in Maryland and in Washington, D.C.
The mission of Extra-Ordinary Birthdays is to transform the lives of homeless children by creating personalized birthdays that make them feel valued and to inspire moments of delight in their lives, according to Leake.
Now, Leake’s efforts are being recognized by the popular beauty care company, L’Oréal Paris, who this month announced its ten 2015 Women of Worth honorees. As one of the people honored for making a difference in her community, Leake will be awarded $10,000 for “Extra-Ordinary Birthdays.”
She has the opportunity to receive an additional $25,000 to advance her cause if selected as the national honoree through an online public vote, which ended on Friday, November 20, 2015.
“An award like L’Oréal Paris is a jumpstart for us,” Leake said. “We want to be able to have faith and I run this nonprofit out of my home and everything is grassroots and we have an amazing community who helps. When you have L’Oréal Paris, who is about community, recognizing what you do, it says you’re worth it.”
The beauty company, which employs a host of celebrity spokespeople, provided special shout-outs to the winners using their stars. For Leake, it was singer and actress Jennifer Lopez.
“I was pleased that Jennifer Lopez chose me for her women crush Wednesday,” Leake said.
In a statement, L’Oréal Paris president Karen Fondu said women of all ages, races and financial backgrounds like Leake, are changing their communities and positively impacting the lives of others.
“These women do not seek recognition or celebrity, but choose to help others because they see a way that they can make a difference and have the passion to pursue it with all their might,” Fondu said.
Hosting birthday parties for her daughter and realizing the joy she gets out of it, helped convinced Leake to offer her services to homeless children.
“I say, as a parent, I understand and know what self worth looks like. I get to see it with the children and I also get to see it with their parents when we do the birthday parties,” Leake said, noting that everything is personalized, including the birthday cake, decorations and gifts. “They get to choose their own cake and their brand new gifts that reflect what the child would want.”
To learn more about “Extra-Ordinary Birthdays,” visit. www.extraordinarybirthdays.org.