Reality Steve


Emily’s Smile Boxes

As you know, I like to have a little fun in my column. In all fairness, what I do is just try to make people laugh by being a bit outlandish in what I say. Hell, most of the time I don’t remember any of the stuff I write. Over the years, there really haven’t been many perks that have come with doing what I do. I just do it for fun and that’s it. Well, for two years in a row now, I was asked to be a “Celebrity Waiter” at an event here in Dallas that benefited the CAP (Child Abuse Prevention) Center of Dallas. This year’s was this past March in downtown and I had the privilege to meet a very special girl, who was a “celebrity waiter” with me. Her name is Emily Lites, an 11 year old girl here in Dallas who started a charity on behalf of her brother, Jude.

Three months before Jude was born, he suffered a stroke. When he was born, everything checked out, and Emily and her family thought Jude was ok. At three months of age, Jude started suffering seizures. A lot of them. In fact when the seizures first started in, he would have close to 70 a day. Yes. 70. The family has since found medication that has him “only” suffering 10-15 seizures a day. If that weren’t bad enough, Jude is also legally blind, has cerebral palsy, and is an epileptic. Jude will turn 2 in a few months.

Because Emily spent so much time in and out of the hospital with Jude, and found herself with nothing to do, she decided to create Emily’s Smile Boxes. They are play boxes filled with crayons, coloring books, stuffed animals, puzzles and more that they give to local children’s hospitals so that every patient, and their siblings, receive a box. When I met her and spoke to her for the first time, I was blown away and immediately drawn to the story.

Of course there are tons of charities out there started by many people that are all great and beneficial. Just something about Emily when I met her at this event, being so mature for an 11-year old having no problems talking about her brother and explaining to me how and why she does what she does was truly inspirational. I’ve donated money myself to her cause, and a couple weekends ago, she brought out her boxes so that volunteers could help pack them and send 200 boxes off to a couple different Dallas hospitals. I attended this event, actually packed a few boxes together myself and took this picture with Emily:

To see friends, family, and complete strangers like me come out and support Emily and her cause was pretty cool to see. I’m glad I made it out there despite the yucky Texas heat. Of course, I’m not much of an artist, so my Smile Boxes weren’t the most well decorated ones, but hey, the last thing I’m known for is my drawing.

When I asked her mother how Emily’s Smile Boxes started, here was her response:

In April of 2009. Jude had been in the hospital again. We had returned home from the hospital for a break and Emily and I were at home spending some time together. We were looking at a website called KidsareHeroes, and Emily told me that she also wanted to do something to help others. In other words, she was inspired by the amazing kids she was reading about. I encouraged her to follow through with helping others. So she came up with the idea of boxes for the patients and their siblings in local childrens hospitals. She had spent so much time in and out of the hospital with Jude that she knew how isolating that can be. The sibling of a sick child is overlooked a lot, even though the parent doesn’t want that to happen. So she came up with Emily’s Smile Boxes, and her idea took off. We incorporated her charity, got a logo, and collected donations. Her first drop off was only 12 boxes, and now she drops off a 100 boxes per hospital at a time with 50 build a bear “Smile Boxes” teddy bears.

The local news has covered her, she’s been interviewed on radio before, but a couple months ago, Emily was also nationally recognized from over 1,000 applicants in the state of Texas for her charity she started. Her mom explains:

Emily was nominated by her school for the Prudential spirit of the community award, They pick 2 top volunteers from each state, one high school, and one mid level. Emily was the mid level winner for the state of Texas. The family received an all expense paid trip to Washington DC where Emily presented her charity to both of our US state senators, and Dr Condoleezza Rice. The trip was amazing! Emily received a $1000 for college, and was up for the national award. While in DC they award ten “national” winners who receive $5000 for college, and $5000 for their charity of choice. Even though Emily did not receive on of the national awards her fellow Texas nominee Ben Sater did. Ben started “Kids Swing” which is a children’s golf tournament, and to date has raised more than $850,000 for Scottish Rite. Emily was so happy for Ben, and we all squealed in excitement when they called his name. You can actually see the awards ceremony online at the link I provided. Those kids are amazing, and I think every adult should watch that ceremony, because it’s humbling.
Emily is now in the running for the Khol’s “Kids Who Care”Award, and the Buil- a-Bear huggable hero. Different teachers, her principal, and other individuals have nominated her, but according to Em all she wants to do “is make kids smile”. She said she doesn’t need awards, but I simply explain to her that they help spread the news of her mission. She normally smiles sweetly, and just says okay.

I think her cause is a great one, and I know there are tons of mothers who read my column, and if you have a special needs child, you know how difficult that can be. As I’ve mentioned, I get nothing out of this. I just wanted more people to know about this special girl and what she’s doing just to bring smiles to kids faces. I have never asked for anything in regards to donations or pimping out some websites in the past. This is something I’ve really gotten behind, having met Emily on a couple of occasions now and exchanged emails. I hope some of you will take the time to donate to Emily’s Charity. Even if it’s something minor, they would greatly appreciate it. To this point, Emily’s Smile Boxes has raised over $10,000 and sent out over 1,000 boxes to local Dallas hospitals. You can donate through Pay Pal by going to her website at:

You can also join her fan page on Facebook by clicking here:

Emily’s Smile Boxes Fan Page

To read more stories about Jude and what the family has been through in the almost two years he’s been here, there’s a link on Emily’s web page to a blog that her mother Jennifer writes. A very brutal and honest diary of the things they go through on a daily basis in dealing with Jude’s needs. Just because Emily is located in Dallas, doesn’t mean they won’t mail Smile Boxes to other states for any kids in need. Sure the drop offs at the Dallas hospitals are usually at least 100 boxes, but they have time for everyone. So if any of you would like one sent to people you know, by all means, contact them through the site and they would be more than glad to help.

Thank you all for taking the time to read today’s column. The more people that know about Emily and her charity, the better. I can’t tell you how impressed I’ve been with Emily through all this. I don’t know many 11 year olds. In fact, I think she’s the only one I do know. But to have her start this on her own, and to see how far its come in just over where she’s receiving national awards in Washington, D.C., is fascinating to me. She’s an incredible girl with an incredible story. Let Emily know you’re aware of her story and the amazing thing she’s doing to help other children. It would really mean a lot to me if, you the readers, would donate anything you could to help out Emily’s charity.

I will talk to you all next week.




  1. oryxmeetsalice

    June 2, 2010 at 5:59 AM


    Thank you so much for sharing this experience with your readers. The little miracles of our lives are what we all should live by. If only a mere half of the population would be as concientious as Emily is.

    Unlike you, I have met numerous eleven year olds. Only a handful have the gusto of Emily. It takes a wonderful pair of parents, and a lot of love to do what she is doing.

    I’d like to read more personal pieces from you. It was refreshing. I know you must enjoy the heckling of Reality TV. Perhaps make a side blog….?

    Char. from Nova Scotia, Canada.

  2. KHapp8

    June 2, 2010 at 6:52 AM

    I am a mother of 11 month old little girl, Allie. I cherish ever second with her and thank god everyday that she is happy and heathly. I can imaged what it would be like to have a sick child and I hope that is something I will never have to know. Thank you for sharing this story with us. I will definatly check out

  3. tvmom74

    June 2, 2010 at 7:57 AM


    Thank you for sharing such an inspirational story. It warms my heart to hear stories like this. It is easy for each of us to forget that each of us as individuals can indeed make a difference in the world. Thank you for reminding us.

    I’ve already forwarded information about Emily to numerous people. I will continue to do so in the hope that someday, she will be able to realize her dream of providing these beautiful boxes to children all across the country.

  4. DEW

    June 2, 2010 at 8:42 AM

    Great story, Steve. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

  5. dramamama

    June 2, 2010 at 1:32 PM

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story with us…I always enjoy reading your column but today was a real treat…I plan on donating!

  6. addicted2trainwrecks

    June 2, 2010 at 4:32 PM

    I really hope that each of you that reads RS will send a donation in to Emily’s Smiles. I have been a volunteer/advocate for the disabled for almost 30 years. If you have ever had the experience of a family member or friend who is seriously ill in the hospital then you will somewhat understand the rollercoaster of emotions it is for that family. It is greatly magnified if you have an ill child and this impacts the entire family including other siblings.

    This story is so uplifting in so many ways it should be mandatory reading. I have no association with this group although I have heard about it. Do youself a favor and read the home page and you will understand the power of one small person who had a wonderful idea of compassion.

  7. turtlemom

    June 2, 2010 at 5:36 PM

    Emily is AMAZING! Thank you, Steve, for sharing this with your readers! You rock!

  8. alli

    June 2, 2010 at 6:40 PM

    Steve, thank you for sharing this story and helping Emily. She is an inspiring.

  9. VibeCat

    June 2, 2010 at 7:30 PM

    Steve, you were right – this story was most definitely worth coming back today for! I think you should go to CNN and nominate her for one of their “Heroes” too, the more the word gets out about this amazing young lady the better!

    Thank you not only for sharing this story, but for helping her. I knew there was a special person behind all this “snark!”

    Thanks for posting the links too. I have visited them and did my part. I am passing the links along to some people also…

  10. Coastal Sisters

    June 3, 2010 at 4:13 AM

    What a wonderful young lady. I totally agree with VibeCat, Emily should be nominated to be a CNN Hero.

    Thank you for sharing this story with your readers and supporting this amazing young lady. We will be donating!

  11. emptynester

    June 3, 2010 at 9:47 AM

    Thank you for sharing this inspiring story. My donation has been sent !!

  12. daisy

    June 3, 2010 at 11:57 AM

    I was really moved by this beautiful story! What a sweet, generous little girl Emily is. Her Smile Boxes are a brilliant idea. Thanks Steve for sharing this with us. I’m donating too.

  13. VibeCat

    June 3, 2010 at 5:15 PM

    I was just looking at the CNN Heroes site today, and it seems that unfortunately the Young Heroes have to be at least 13. I knew that they had a category for the younger ones so I wanted to see what the requirements were, and for some reason they have an age limit.

    Well that stinks.

  14. Hopeth

    June 3, 2010 at 9:43 PM

    What a gift! My son (he’s almost 3) has been in and out of the hospital for the last year with a still undiagnosed illness and every little thing that makes the hospital less, i don’t know, hospitally…the better.

    Thanks for shedding light on the work this little girl is doing, at 11 she is probably changing the days of more kids than most of us do in a lifetime.

    I knew you were a softy deep down 🙂

  15. twistedkrista

    June 4, 2010 at 1:42 AM

    Thank you for sharing this story, Steve. She is truly inspirational!! I plan on donating. And she’s got me thinking about where I can volunteer…

  16. cjengo

    June 4, 2010 at 7:18 AM

    Wow Steve, thank you so much for the incredible write up on Emily. I am overwhelmed at the amount of emails, donations, and encouraging words we have received. I am even more touched by the sweet comments left under your write up. We are very blessed to have met you, and your readers. ~ Jennifer (aka Em’s mom)

  17. Wolf Goddess

    June 4, 2010 at 2:18 PM

    ~Thanks for sharing this inspirational & touching story..definitely renews my faith & belief in “young people” sharing this with many friends & family in hopes we can help in some matter how large or small~

    ~Kinda puts “The Bachelor/Bachelorette and all other Reality Shows in perspective doesn’t it?~

  18. Kit R

    June 4, 2010 at 6:46 PM

    Young women like Emily show us how to lead our lives in a caring and compassionate way that puts the needs of others before self. Next time I get the urge to say something bad or act selfishly I’ll think about the example she sets and that ought to keep me on track.

  19. mja

    June 5, 2010 at 10:27 AM

    This is my favorite Reality Steve column ever!

  20. carolynhirz

    June 7, 2010 at 8:14 AM

    I recently graduated from BYU with my bachelors of science in special education. Often times in class, we would talk of the siblings of students with disabilities and what we as teachers could do for them. I think this is a fabulous post and an even better organization. Thanks for sharing.

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