Emily Smith didn’t know any strangers.
The 26-year-old had a habit of making friends wherever she went. Once at the Winter Springs DMV, she presented the employee who invited her to the front of the line after she’d had to leave the center because she’d forgotten some paperwork, with a Kit Kat. She also sang to him.
At the gas station, Emily struck up conversations with whoever happened to be pumping gas next to her. She said hello to people on the street and was quick to compliment young girls and the elderly. When she saw destitute families sitting on the side of the road, she would head to McDonald’s and buy all she could off the dollar menu to feed them.
“Emily was like this amazing random-acts-of-kindness person,” says her mom Susan Hietpas. “She wanted everyone to be treated fairly and equally. She knew the power of words, the strength of small actions and the joy of an unsolicited opportunity.”
Emily, who passed away unexpectedly last November, was also a creative spirit.
“She couldn’t draw a perfect figure but she would gather the strangest items together and make something beautiful out of them. She loved to cook. Her favorite time of year was Halloween and she loved to dress up,” says Susan. “In all kinds of ways, she was creative.”
On December 1, this grieving mom will honor her daughter’s legacy of creativity and kindness in a way she knows Emily would fully support: by officially launching the nonprofit Simply Amazing to provide art and craft supplies to kids in homeless shelters and at-risk youth programs in Central Florida. Simply Amazing is the latest to receive a Scatter Joy Art Ambassador Grant, offered by the Scatter Joy Center for the Arts to individuals and organizations using the arts to make a positive difference.
The nonprofit will distribute its art boxes — one geared toward kids in kindergarten through third grade, another to fourth grade and up — to area shelters and the Boys & Girls Club of Central Florida, which provides youth development programs to at-risk children. The boxes will include crayons, markers, coloring pages, clay, friendship bracelets, doodling tutorials, a Simply Amazing coloring book and more, all of which have been approved by teachers and artists Susan knows to ensure they’re safe and age-appropriate.
“When I think about the items that are in each box, I see Emily using them,” says Susan, recalling the hours her daughter sat as a girl at a tiny desk that once belonged to her grandfather, lost in the possibilities of construction paper and glue. “I just know how happy that made her so when I put things together and was seeking out items to put into the box, I knew she’d think this is cool and she’d want to be part of it.”
Founded with the support of family and friends, including Emily’s brother Jake Smith, Simply Amazing has provided Susan with a way to not only channel and find purpose in her grief but to ensure Emily isn’t forgotten.
“Emily’s smile lit up a room and she scattered happiness like confetti. Her creative nature, love of art, and ‘give until it hurts’ spirit is what drives our mission,” she says. “I’ve always been a doer but I didn’t realize the power of love and the ability it gives you…I’m not going to be here forever so this is the way I can honor her.”
Emily was an avid arts and crafts lover from a young age, toting a sketchpad and pencils everywhere, squirreling away bottle caps and broken trinkets for craft projects and designing cards for every occasion to share with family and friends. Her kindness blossomed just as early.
Susan recalls the time Emily scoured the ground at a birthday party when the piñata dropped to make sure every party-goer got an equal share of the loot.
“Once at an arcade she steadily gave away her allotment of quarters so every child had a chance to play. Giving came natural to Emily and she would go without to give to others,” her mom says.
She carried that compassion into adulthood and a career as a private caregiver. From painting her clients’ nails and baking their favorite treats to remembering the important anniversaries of the loved ones they’d lost, she embodied thoughtfulness and caring.
“She leaned into others’ lives and recognized what would help them feel loved,” says Susan.
Providing art supplies to kids used to receiving only the basics in life is one such gesture of love. Eventually, Susan hopes to partner with high school students to offer guided arts and craft activities to underserved kids and has dreams of Simply Amazing going national.
“Emily would want children who receive a Simply Amazing Creative Box to know that this is a gift of their very own,” she says. “She would tell them to be creative because there’s no right or wrong way, just their own way.
“She would say, ‘If you mess it up, then dress it up.’ Your work is one of a kind — simply amazing — just like you!”
Click here to learn more about the work this nonprofit is doing to empower kids’ creativity.