Sharing a smile: How high school students in Buffalo are brightening their neighbor's days

'We just wanted to make people smile'
Posted at 11:48 AM, May 26, 2021

KENMORE, N.Y. — Students at Kenmore High School in Buffalo, New York, are giving their neighbors a reason to smile.

Yellow, hand-painted smiley face ornaments have been popping up in trees around the village. They’re made with love and kindness by students in a project that teachers are calling “Miles of Smiles.”

“I think these smiles would really make people's day,” said Kenmore student Shauntelle Doerr, 17. “It made mine when I kept making them.”

“You're doing this for other people and it makes them feel great, but it makes you feel great,” 15-year-old student Eileen Krause said. “After doing this, I feel 10 times better.”

The ornaments are being made by students enrolled in the Big Picture Program in the Kenmore-Tonawanda School District.

Students placed a smiley face ornament on a tree along Crosby in Kemore.

Principal Kevin Kruger says the program is developed for students who don't fit the traditional high school model.

“So to see them pour out their hearts onto these wood cookies and make little ornaments and share them with the community is really coming from the heart for them,” Kruger said.

Teacher Michelle Phillips brought the project to the classroom, asking her students to create the ornaments to help lift spirits in the Kenmore community.

“We just wanted to make people smile and that was our mission,” Phillips said.

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Shauntelle Doerr, 17, student.

As students are making the smiley faces, they're also including some very important messages.

“Life is like a roller coaster, but it's always fun at the end and I also wrote that even on your bad days — there's good in it,” said 14-year-old student Reilly Pawlak.

“I wrote, ‘I love you’ and ‘you are a star,’” Shauntelle said.

“I wrote, ‘you're amazing,’ ‘you're loved,’ ‘you look great’ — just stuff I would want someone to say to me,” Eileen said.

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Eileen Krause, 15, student.

Phillips said the program is teaching the students — and the community — to make the decision to be happy.

“Smile today is a really important message because happiness is a choice,” she said. “I try to tell the kids that sometimes you have to choose to be happy — it doesn't always happen automatically.”

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Teacher Michelle Phillips.

The Kenmore community is noticing.

Phillips says she is overwhelmed to see the reactions on a Facebook page called “What’s Up Kenmore?” Posts say the ornaments are making people smile. Some members of the group wanted to know if they would be coming to their street, and others even offered to help pay for the supplies to make more.

Smiley ornaments on trees in Kenmore.

“I was overwhelmed at the generosity of the community,” Phillips said.

Phillips said the national school program, Big Picture, is paying for all the supplies.

“When you see people like this saying oh my gosh, these are amazing — these made my day — ‘how can we help’ — it makes you feel good,” Eileen said.

Smiley ornaments on trees in Kenmore.

This story was originally published by Eileen Buckley on Scripps station WKBW in Buffalo.