“Even though I use a wheelchair and wear braces, Smith Smiles has helped me make the best of my situation,” said Gracyn Smith…
Gracyn Smith is only nine years old, but she arguably comprehends the mentality of ill children better than any adult…
Due to her epilepsy, the youngster from Boynton Beach, Florida, spent much of her life in and out of hospitals. She is familiar with the dreariness, anxiety, and despair of chronic sickness. And the impact extended to her entire family.
Her brother Zakary was just four years old when Gracyn was hospitalized with the neurological condition, but he was profoundly affected by the gloomy circumstances his sister and the other hospitalized children encountered. In many hospitals, the children had little opportunities for play due to limited funds and donations.
“While she was recovering in the playroom, the majority of the toys were damaged. It was sad,” Zakary, now 11. I donated the majority of my birthday presents to a hospital so that the children could play with toys that weren’t all broken…
Zakary, Gracyn, and their 6-year-old brother, Ari, contacted their parents about bringing in additional donations to improve the dispositions of hospitalized youngsters after observing their peers’ delight at receiving the gifts…
“I like to give them stuffed animals,” stated Ari as his preferred contribution. “I am aware that this toy brings them joy.”
The children began modestly. They informed school administration of the need, and each soon presented their purpose to classmates, synagogue members, and numerous community organizations.
Their mother, Tracy Smith, was eight months pregnant with Ari when Gracyn underwent spine surgery for her ailment…
As soon as word spread of their efforts, toy contributions surged. Tracy and Jarrett Smith created the charitable organization Smith Smiles in 2011.
Now, hospital staff sends them wish lists, and they collect donations for hospitals around their state and abroad.
“It truly comes in waves,” says Tracy, the organization’s primary contact, who credits her three children with the nonprofit’s energy and operation.
“We have had so many consistent gifts from camps, synagogues, and other organizations..
And we always attempt to maintain a limited quantity in case of an emergency.”
In fact, the family stores the toys in a designated area until they are packaged for shipment or sent to hospitals where staff members have expressed interest..,
“Working with them has been an absolute delight. Lisa Barron, pediatric office supervisor at Palm Beach Children’s Hospital at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Florida, explains that they will contact us beforehand to determine if we have any special requests.
“The very first time they came to make a donation, they pointed out each toy and told me which ones would be ideal for the various age groups…
And patients are often surprised and appreciative to receive gifts. The purpose of childhood is play. And Smith Smiles contributes to this.”
Diane Esola of Boca Raton, Florida, has personal experience with this. She recounts the anxiety her family had when her 14-year-old son was hospitalized in Boca Raton, Florida.
“One day, our nurse from Smith Smiles came to the hospital and explained what they do,” she recalls. “They brought my son puzzles, airplane models, and board games, which made him very happy…. I’ve never had that experience in a hospital before.”
The family has contacted Smith Smiles in order to hold their own toy drive in order to give back to the organization.
The Smith family was recently caught in the Cleveland Clinic, where Gracyn is receiving treatment, donating to children as their tearful relatives watched.
Dr. Elia Pestana-Knight, Gracyn’s neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Epilepsy Center, stated that the donations also motivate the staff.
“Gracyn is a courageous young woman who has overcome numerous medical obstacles in her short life. It may seem uncommon to watch someone who is suffering a terrible illness be so considerate and generous toward other youngsters.
“This is what makes Gracyn so unique,” she explains. “It’s nice to know that Gracyn and her brothers are helping other disadvantaged youngsters. She is an inspiration to us as child care providers.”
Even when the Smith children are unable to meet the children or families to whom they give, the act of mailing the boxes or delivering them to hospitals offers them happiness.
Tracy says, “occasionally we are able to go to the hospital and make donations, and sometimes we are able to interact with hospital workers and patients.” “Our sole objective is to establish relationships with the hospitals to whom we give.”
The family has lately contributed to hospitals in Florida that were hardest hit by recent storms. They intend to do more for other places affected by storms.
“Just doing that makes me feel better,” Gracyn, who admits she is occasionally uncomfortable while speaking to groups about Smith Smiles, says.
“I am aware that little children do not understand what is happening in the hospital. I believe that giving a youngster a toy will distract and comfort them. Smith Smiles has helped me make something positive out of the fact that I use a wheelchair and wear braces.”