Inspired by the kindness of a young girl, Evelyn’s Gift was set up six months ago. Now with charitable status imminent and six trustees helping hundreds of people, Hannah Smith found out how far the charity has come.
It was during one of her mother’s frantic and panicked search for keys that Evelyn Smith set aside her toys and scribbled a smiling face with a simple message ‘be happy’ to hold up against her own beaming smile and restore calm.
Over two years later and that same happy face is heading up unstoppable good work through Evelyn’s Gift-a charity set up in the wake of tragedy to spread little acts of kindness wherever they are needed.
Taking nappies to refugees in Coventry; delivering Christmas gifts to the elderly; feeding the homeless at Leamington’s night shelter; offering resuscitation training and bereavement support - these are just some of the charity’s many branches of incredible work as Helen Smith honours her daughter’s memory.
Seven-year-old Warwick schoolgirl Evelyn died in September 2013 after suffering sudden respiratory and cardiac failure in a tragedy that shook the community where she was so well loved.
Despite being surrounded by support, her mother Helen says she found the only way through unbearably difficult times was to dedicate her time to helping others and help her daughter’s unfaltering kindness live on.
What happened to Evelyn is beyond words but for such a legacy to be left in her name shows how much has come out of her kindnessHelen Smith
She began collecting and delivering Christmas donations for women and children escaping domestic violence - and has not stopped since.
The charity was launched at the Warwick Arms Hotel just six months later and has already been chosen as one of town’s mayoral charities to fund decoration of a family room at St Michael’s Hospital.
Helen, who gave up her job as an engineer at Jaguar Land Rover to focus on the cause, says the growth in the past year is simply overwhelming.
“This is how I can focus my brain on something, it is hugely important for me,” she says.
“What happened to Evelyn is beyond words but for such a legacy to be left in her name shows how much has come out of her kindness.
“Evelyn was so happy and full of life, she would love to know that she was spreading so much good to others.”
Helen, who lives in Warwick with her husband and 11-year-old son, set up Be Happy Day on December 1 - what would have been Evelyn’s 10th birthday - and said they had an incredible response.
She is also beginning to fund bereavement packs for schools to help children cope with loss following the death of Sydenham schoolboy Rowan Fitzgerald earlier this year.
But what remains firmly at the heart of the cause for her and five trustees is lifesaving resuscitation (CPR) training.
“CPR training is where it all began,” she says. “When Evelyn stopped breathing I knew what to do, but so many people said they wouldn’t have done which is frightening.
“My actions could never have saved her but I know I did all I could. That is the security I want everyone to have.”
Led by friend Jan Grewal, informal CPR sessions were set up for Evelyn’s former teachers at Coten End school last year.
A year on and with “invaluable help” from medical professional Tim Morris and West Midlands Ambulance Service, the idea has expanded to monthly sessions and 720 people over the past two years.
Its core CPR training remains free through the British Heart Foundations’s Heartstart scheme and coordinated by Dr Morris, Waterside practice manager.
Classes are now taken to even younger learners with the first sessions for sixth formers at Warwickshire College in Leamington and Rugby and Myton School.
As the New Year approaches, Helen and her trustees hope official charitable status will boost scope for grants to help Evelyn’s Gift spread its message even further.