Texas Ex Brings Pop-Up Birthdays to Kids in Need

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Laila Scott’s 9-year-old son Cole steps up to the table and reaches for the next present on the stack—a set of Hot Wheels. Once he’s wrapped it in red paper, Cole grabs the gift tags.

“Who’s this one for, mom?”

Scott, MBA ’03, spells out the name of a boy who will be turning four next week. The present goes into a box and Cole returns to his homework.

Scott says her three sons are used to seeing presents come and go, and they’re always willing to help. She needs the extra hands. Since founding the nonprofit Pop-Up Birthday in July 2014, Scott has helped 170 children in foster care celebrate their birthdays—70 of those just in the last three months.

Scott fills Pop-Up Birthday boxes with party essentials: gifts, decorations, snacks, party favors, and a gift card for cake. The boxes are usually requested by foster care workers and then delivered to a foster family for the child’s birthday. Each one is personalized to the child, with a custom gift list and theme.

“As a kid, my birthdays were simple, but I always felt so special,” Scott recalls. “I love creating a special day. It’s not about being over-the-top, it’s about being meaningful.”

According to Texas Department of Family Services data, the majority of children in foster care are placed in kinship homes—with extended family or friends. These families do not have to be licensed and typically are not provided with a stipend. Scott says many families don’t have the money for birthday parties, or the children are moved so often their birthdays are simply missed.

“These are innocent people who are being forgotten,” she says. “At least for one day, I want them to feel a sense of normalcy, and to feel important.”

Scott got the idea four years ago, while she was serving on the board for Foster Angels of Central Texas, a support program partnering with Child Protective Services.

“Even though I was on all these boards, I felt like I wasn’t actually doing anything,” she says. “I was driving home one day and this voice said, birthdays for foster kids.”

Around that time, Scott found out she was pregnant with her third child, and she and her husband began building a new house. While she waited for the right time, Scott saved money and cleared her schedule to make room for a new venture.

In early 2014, the Longhorn started telling people about her birthday box idea, waiting for someone to take it on. “But they just kept turning it back around to me and saying, ‘OK, do it,’” she says.

It was a July phone call from Ted Oakley, founder of Foster Angels, that got Scott moving.

“He was the top guy—I’d always heard he was hard to impress,” Scott says. “So when he asked to meet the next day, of course I said yes.”

That night, she put together a rough business plan and created her first birthday box from the supplies she had around her house. It was enough to impress Oakley.

“I remember she had this box that she just kept pulling things out of until we had an entire party in the room,” Oakley says. “She said she wasn’t sure how to go about it, so I told her Foster Angels would support her.”

Oakley agreed to pay for the first 10 boxes, planning to reevaluate after that. By box seven, Foster Angels agreed to sponsor Pop-Up Birthday.

“A lot of people do a generic thing, like: ‘Here’s a present for a teenage boy,’” Oakley says. “That’s not what Laila does. It’s so personalized, she knows what each child’s needs and wants are.”

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Scott has created boxes with themes ranging from Ninja Turtles to the 1980s. She and her intern, Merari Conde, laugh when trying to pick the most unique box request—it’s a tie between a teenage Anime film box and a purple cowgirl theme.

As Pop-Up Birthday has expanded to reach 30 counties, Oakley encouraged Scott to become her own nonprofit, separate from Foster Angels.

“I said, ‘Laila, you’ve got a great idea here, you could go nationwide,’” Oakley says. “It’s scalable—she could do Pop-Up Birthday for children all over the USA.”

Pop-Up Birthday became a certified 501(c)(3) nonprofit in October, and Scott is already making plans for other ways to expand the business.

“Maybe we’ll have ‘Pop-Up Graduation,’ or ‘Pop-Up Baby’ for teen moms,” she wonders out loud. “For now, I’m starting to host my own Pop-Up Birthday of the month. I love the process of hosting a party.”

I ask the Texas alum if she thinks she’s changing the world, and she chokes up.

“I don’t know,” Scott says. “I hope so. I hope maybe 20 years from now I’ll hear from a foster kid who’s paying it forward.”

Photos by Anna Daugherty

 

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