Laila Scott, founder of Pop-Up Birthday, gives children in foster care birthday celebrations to remember.
By Reagan Crabb
What began as a few boxes in Laila Scott’s home has now grown into a thriving nonprofit that brings joy to children in foster care. Founded in 2014, Pop-Up Birthday celebrates the birthdays of Central Texas foster children, with over 5,000 birthday boxes delivered so far.
Pop-Up Birthday ships out hundreds of birthday boxes to foster children in need every year. Each box includes three wish list gifts—fun, need, read—along with party supplies, themed decorations, cake mix, icing, candles, balloons, goody bags and a personalized card, all wrapped up in a personalized box.
An Idea For me
“For my boys, I did every birthday based on whatever they were excited about at that moment in time,” Scott says. From going on fun-sized paleontology digs, to playing with mounds of dirt for a construction party, Scott always created something unique for her kids. After attending these birthday parties, friends often told her that she should be an event planner, but this didn’t sit right. She wanted to find a way to use her gifts to serve others in need. Driving one day it hit her: “I should do birthdays for foster kids.”
Scott learned about foster care through her work as chair of the RGK Foundation Adjunct Board. “We funded several foster care organizations and attended panels to learn about the challenges facing the foster care system,” she says. “To no fault of their own, these children found themselves living with strangers, experiencing crisis and trauma. [I] envisioned kids being pulled away from their homes, scared, with strangers…knowing that they probably came from a history of not being celebrated. [I] couldn’t even fathom that.”
This new knowledge inevitably led to her discovering just how much foster parents really need. “They’re wonderful people,” she says. “But they’re so overwhelmed with just getting that kid to safety and to therapy and to visitations. A lot of times they don’t have the extra funds.”
Scott believed she could fill this need by celebrating foster children, just as she celebrated her own. “[I thought] that could be my service to these families and especially to these kids who’ve never been celebrated. It just made sense to me, and I couldn’t shake it.”
After coming up with the idea, it took two years to get it off the ground. Scott spent thoughtful time mulling it over and coming up with more ideas, then created the name and logo. With the knowledge gained from her MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, Scott knew she needed a business plan. After researching, she came up with a prototype by taking leftover supplies from a previous party she had thrown.
“It’s a lot of work getting something off the ground, especially with three little ones at home,” she says. Now that she had a solid business plan and protype, she presented her idea to Ted Oakley, the founder of Foster Angels, a charity that focuses on enhancing the lives of foster children. “He just got it,” she recalls, “and he funded the first ten boxes.”
Scott made her first real birthday box, a Frozen-themed party, in her craft room. “This little girl was so excited to have something all her own and to celebrate her special day,” recalls Child Protective Services Specialist Elizabeth Harris. Box by box, month by month, Pop-Up Birthday started to catch on and Scott received more funding.
Growth and Mission
As Pop-Up Birthday grew, Scott made sure to hold on to her original values. “We never lost sight of what we wanted to do,” she says. “There were chances where people said, ‘Do you really need to have all these gifts in here? Do you really need to do all this? Maybe we should simplify and only offer five themes and just quick little boxes.’ But it just didn’t sit right.”
The core of Pop-Up Birthday’s mission is the idea that something was made especially for each child who receives a box. “It’s about realizing that you were recognized, that you were seen. That someone took the time to celebrate you as a person,” she says. “You’re not just a number. You’re not just a child getting a trash bag of some donated stuff. This is truly for you.”
Scott shares a final word of advice for those who want to follow a passion: “If you have an idea and can’t shake it, don’t. Keep at it. If it’s there it’s because it needs to be brought to the world. So just take one little step at a time and keep at it. Then you’ll inspire others to join you and help you. Before you know it, it’s its own little thing.”
In order to keep their organization running, Pop-Up Birthday relies on the generosity of those who want to spread joy. “Not everyone is called or is able to foster a child,” Scott says. “This is a way that you can help. Someone can donate enough to buy a cake mix and icing, [or]someone might be able to do an entire birthday box.” Pop-Up Birthday also has an annual fundraising event. “Events are huge to help spread awareness and just spread our mission. We love to do kind of a nontraditional gala that really lets people party like a kid.”
They will hold their Birthday Ball will on Friday, April 1, at 6:30 p.m. You can find out ways to help, or get tickets to the gala, by going to their website.