Hooper: A message goes viral on behalf of kids

Published November 28 2017
Updated December 1 2017

Local public relations practitioner Carolynn Smith prides herself on working behind the scenes for her clients.

Even with a 6-foot-2 frame, the former NCAA basketball player blends into the scene.

She did so again Tuesday night when she helped former Major League Baseball player Gary Sheffield and his wife DeLeon Sheffield promote their new FYI Network show with a gala at Ulelee.

This time, however, Smith could have garnered as much attention as Sheffield and some of the other 100-plus dignitaries. Just by chance, a simple video Smith crafted in a parking lot on Bruce B. Downs has gone viral, drawing in digital outlets for ABC News and Inside Edition.

Smith, 36, traces the story back to the mentoring work she embarked on while representing former NBA player Tarence Kinsey and his foundation. That helped connect her to the Wilbert Davis Boys & Girls Club in Belmont Heights, and sheís maintained a relationship with many of the clubís teen members.

Sheís even convinced her fiance Kendrix Jones to serve as a mentor.

The rash of murders in nearby Southeast Seminole Heights has cast a pall over most of the neighborhoods. One of Smithís mentees told her kids arenít coming to the play any more.

"My heart has always been with inner-city youth," said Smith, who spent most of her formative years in Tampa and graduated from Armwood High School. "I asked Tina, the director at Wilbert Davis, if there were any big parties going on for the kids and she said there wasnít.

"So I said, ĎI need to do something this year and it needs to be big.í "

Smith decided to "adopt" all 125 kids and promised to deliver them a special Christmas celebration. How? And with what money? Smith, six months pregnant and the mother of a 5-year-old, figured if she had to, she would dip into her savings.

Yet as she drove to pick up her son on Nov. 17, she got a calling. The spirit moved her. She pulled over at the Home Depot and did a Facebook live video, calling on folks who always said they would like to help with her mentoring.

Maybe because sheís pregnant, Smith reasoned, maybe because she cares so much, she began to sob on the video as she made a plea. Normally composed and professional, Smith grew emotional and what I jokingly call her "boo-hoo face" emerged.

"I thought about doing it again, but I probably would have started crying again," Smith said. "So I left it. Iím glad I did."

She didnít plan it, she didnít mean to, but the impromptu effort went viral. In days, several local television stations, including ABC affiliate WFTS-Ch. 28, did stories on Smithís touching plea and her call to donate to a Go Fund Me page (gofundme.com/tampa-bay-gives-back). As of Wednesday, the page had received more than $7,000 in pledges from as far away as California and New York

"Iím extremely surprised," Smith said. "I had hoped to get some support from friends and family who always said they wanted to help. I didnít think it would go beyond that."

Now Smith has pledged to give each of the 125 kids two gifts, plus create a winter wonderland celebration for the kids later this month. More than 35 people have volunteered to help. She said additional money will be used to help the club with other needs.

In the interim, sheíll continue to promote folks like the Sheffields. The new show, Sheffield Real Estate, focuses on DeLeonís real estate business and the relationship she has with Gary and their three sons. Smith said it takes viewers into some of the areaís most fabulous homes.

It premiered Thursday.

Sheffield always used a big bat to succeed in baseball, but Smith shows you also can hit a home run with a few tears.

Thatís all Iím saying.