Sparking Small Smiles

How Emily Zhu (‘23) created a service club to keep kids happy during the pandemic


Katy Silva (‘23)

A member of Small Smile Makers, Katy Silva (‘23) prepared cookies to send to children in Renown Children’s Hospital.

20 hours or no hours, or maybe just 10: it’s clear that community service requirements have shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of students have found it difficult to work with their normal service organizations, and the hour requirement was waived or shortened several times. But a few students have found a way to take advantage of the pandemic, to take advantage of the time that kids and teenagers are spending in their houses, to start new service organizations through which students can volunteer from the safety of their houses. Such was the case with Small Smile Makers, a service club founded by Emily Zhu (‘23) to help children in need. 

Many service organizations focus on basic needs for children and families: food, education, shelter. But this nonprofit focuses on the little things, helping children feel happy with entertaining toys, drawing pictures of cute animals or making stickers with puns. Emily and her club works with local organizations to bring joy to the faces of underprivileged children—hence the name: Small Smile Makers. “Even if it’s in a small way, I’m glad that I am able to help,” said Macy Haro (‘23).

The club has made masks for San Diego’s Young Women’s Christians Association (YWCA)—an organization fighting against homelessness during the pandemic—and has even sent scrunchies to a transitional housing program in San Francisco called Compass Clara House. They’ve also made dog toys, coloring pages, and cookies, and they’ve worked alongside shelters like Everybody Wins!, and the Orange County Social Services Agency.  “The variation of projects and drives seemed like the perfect way to brighten a kid’s day in quarantine,” said Athena Hernández (‘23), leader of the planning committee. Another member, Brooke Cluster (‘23), agreed. “I thought it would be a fun way to do some charity work and give back,” Brooke said.

“The intention behind creating the club was to extend these projects to other students in our community so that they can help other people… without ever leaving their homes,” Emily explained. Each month or so, the club takes on a new project, like stickers, cards, or cookies, so that volunteers can work at their own pace on their own schedule. Then they deliver the results to children in the community. 

One member, Leela Wainio (‘24) explained that her regular volunteer commitment was canceled during COVID-19. “Being able to draw for hours…[was] super convenient.” She went on to describe that she had made some stickers with zodiac signs or other cute designs. “Lots of people like them,” she said, explaining that the cute designs made the kids—and herself—happy. 

Volunteers have made cards and stickers for kids in Renown Children’s Hospital—an organization she found through the VolunteerMatch database, which helped to find people in need. Small Smile Makers also made scrunchies for San Diego Rescue Mission, a “non-profit homeless shelter and recovery center serving thousands of homeless, hungry, and poor men, women, and children in San Diego,” according to the mission’s FaceBook

“Organizations like this one [Small Smile Makers] really help to provide some normalcy in the lives of these kids that have gone through so much” said Laura Turtzer, Community and Government Relations Manager for Orange County Social Services. “We appreciate our community members that help us to achieve that.”