Local mother turns heartbreak into arts enrichment for local children.
Emily Smith was a kind, generous person with a knack for brightening up the lives of others with simple yet heartfelt gestures.She was also a creative young woman with a flair for arts and crafts.
Susan Smith Hietpas, Emily’s mother, says her hardworking daughter had a “give until it hurts” approach to life.
“Emily didn’t have a lot, and what she did have, she usually gave away, even if it was just a smile,” Susan says. “We had a very close relationship. We were definitely mother-and-daughter best friends.”
Susan’s world came crashing down when Emily died of a drug overdose in November 2017, just days before her 27th birthday. The devastated mom organized a celebration of life for Emily, but found herself at a loss as to what to do next.
Ultimately, Susan decided to honor and remember her daughter by bringing a little happiness to others – just like Emily did. To that end, she founded Simply Amazing, a nonprofit, private foundation that provides gift boxes of arts and craft supplies to kids in need.
“I want to make a difference in a child’s life by lifting them up,” says Susan, who lives in Winter Springs.
Simply Amazing gives the boxes to children in at-risk youth programs, homeless shelters, and foster care. Each child gets to keep the box of goodies. Susan’s goal was to distribute 1,000 boxes in 2019; by the end of May, the foundation had already surpassed that mark.
Locally, Simply Amazing has distributed boxes to the Children’s Home Society of Florida; the Foundation for Foster Children; Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida; Harbor House; and the Orlando Children’s Church (OCC).
The boxes are provided at no cost to the agencies or kids who receive them and are packed with crayons, markers, clay, and other fun and easy-to-use items.
Sandy Justin, OCC’s volunteer coordinator, contacted Simply Amazing after learning about the foundation and its mission of empowering kids to be creative. Susan responded by delivering 100 boxes to the ministry’s children.
The kids, thrilled with their gifts, showered Susan with hugs and handmade thank-you notes.
“Simply Amazing is definitely a beauty-from-ashes organization,” Sandy says. “Not even an early death could snuff out the light and love that flowed from Emily’s life and the Hietpas family as a whole.”
Emily, who was born in New York, moved with her family to Seminole County at the age of four. She attended Lawton Elementary, graduated from Trinity Preparatory School, and studied at Florida State University before returning home to become a phlebotomist and private caregiver.
In family photos, Emily was usually flashing a big smile and a peace sign. She was creative in many ways, including her fashion sense.
“Emily was very hippy-dippy,” Susan says with a reminiscing smile. “She always said she was born in the wrong era.”
Fittingly, a peace sign is incorporated into Simply Amazing’s colorful logo. Susan, an office manager in Orlando, wears a peace sign pin every day in remembrance of her daughter.
Simply Amazing, which was officially launched in December 2018, has already garnered a great deal of support. The organization has received grants from A. Duda & Sons, Inc. in Oviedo, the Kiwanis Club of Orlando, and the Scatter Joy Center for the Arts in Pennsylvania.
Also, Trinity Prep’s Class of 2019 chose Simply Amazing as the recipient of its senior fundraising project. And, the school’s art club had a bake sale to benefit the foundation.
The organization has also received helpful guidance and input from two heavy-hitters in the arts world. Longwood artist Joanne Fink, founder of Zenspirations, and greeting card maven Kathy Davis, Susan’s sister-in-law, both serve on Simply Amazing’s advisory board. Susan’s husband, Mark Hietpas, and her 23-year-old son, Jake Smith, are also board members.
To spread the word about the foundation, Simply Amazing will offer free craft activities for kids at community events this year, such as the Winter Springs ARToberFEST and Great Day in the Country in Oviedo. And, the organization will have a fundraiser on November 15 at the Art & History Museums - Maitland.
Susan knows that Emily, who believed strongly in fairness and inclusion, would approve of the foundation’s work to bring art and joy to the lives of disadvantaged children. She would want every child to know that their creative skills are simply amazing – and so are they.
“Emily would have been so very proud and humbled that her legacy is the inspiration for Simply Amazing,” Susan says.
To volunteer with Simply Amazing or learn more, visit SimplyAmazing.org.
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