It's a Wednesday afternoon, and there's a party at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital. The PediDome buzzes with the sounds of Michael Jackson and Cardi B, which sends kids in tiny gold capes and colorful tutus straight to the makeshift dance floor.
"When children are really sick, we look for any reason to have a party," says Lisa Hafemeister, MD Anderson's pediatrics division administrator. "Because every day is actually a reason to celebrate."
On this particular Wednesday—the second to last in September, which is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month—there's plenty of celebration. There's the DJ, free lunch, craft stations, and—best of all—the Kendra Scott Color Bar, where kids (and parents) line up to make their own jewelry by choosing from a bevy of rainbow-hued gemstones to customize a special piece from the beloved Austin-based designer.
She's here, too, and the energy is palpable. "When they have a local celebrity around, it really does lift their spirits," Hafemeister says of the children—the little girls especially—who are waiting to meet Kendra Scott.
Scott, a Wisconsin native who spent her adolescence in Houston (a Klein High School alumna), has a special connection to MD Anderson, which treated her stepfather's brain cancer, and to this space in particular: It's the birthplace of Kendra Cares, the philanthropic program born out of a "crazy idea" to bring the Color Bar into the hospital. Scott tried that here in 2015, a year after an emotional tour of the pediatric center when she visited MD Anderson to accept an award.
"I was just so moved by everything I was seeing and the unbelievable level of care here. They were showing me that the kids love to have moments in their day that they can forget about what they're dealing with and have a little bright spot of joy, normalcy and happiness," Scott tells Houstonia. "And it's not just the kids, it's their parents—it's the moms and dads that are sitting by their bedside day in and day out that also sometimes just need a little break."
Scott thought the Color Bar could serve as a fun distraction, a chance for kids to create something beautiful of their own to keep for themselves or gift to their mom or favorite nurse; the hospital agreed to beta test the concept.
"It was overwhelmingly successful," Scott recalls. "We just saw, oh my gosh, this is something wonderful."
Kendra Cares was born, and Scott worked with MD Anderson to refine the program that, three years later, has grown into 30 pediatric hospitals around the country. In January, the company had donated over 6,500 pieces of jewelry—no small feat considering prices for customizable designs, featuring more than 50 styles and 30 stones, hover in the neighborhood of $100 and up.
"We couldn't do what we do without the generosity of folks like Kendra Scott ... they allow the kids to be kids while they're undergoing our cancer treatment," Hafemeister says. "Everyone knows who Kendra Scott is—jewelry's a big deal. She brings a lot of excitement wherever she goes."
Indeed, Scott's highly anticipated entrance to the PediDome does feel like a celebrity has come to town. This summer, Forbes added the 44-year-old CEO to its new list of the country's richest self-made women: her net worth, estimated at $500 million, put her at No. 44.
On Wednesday, she's genuinely thrilled to spend time with the kids, quick to dance, pose for a selfie, or get behind the Color Bar herself. She's had a whirlwind tour in Houston, throwing the first pitch at the previous night's Astros game in which the home team won big—7-0 against the Seattle Mariners.
"I hope I was a good luck charm!" Scott says. "I wore one of my good luck charms—I wore a lucky horseshoe and my state of Texas charm. It was so exciting."
Speaking of those charms: That's the latest in Scott's growing repertoire, and the mogul was expected at another party at The Dunlavy later that night to celebrate the launch. The new collection of more than 300 charms includes initials, symbols, and stones; proceeds from the aforementioned Texas state charm benefit MD Anderson.
What's next for the multi-million dollar empire that's grown beyond jewelry and into home goods? Continued product expansion, more fine jewelry (think diamonds and precious stones), and a worldwide takeover—sort of. The Texas mogul saw her international debut last year in London's Selfridges.
"We see a lot of wonderful things on the horizon," she says. "I just feel so lucky that I get to do this everyday. It's a little girl's dream come true—seriously."