Makeila Pressley flashes her smile and you're transported to a place where everything is good.
The smile makes you forget that two years ago her 9-year-old body was engulfed in flames and she was on the brink of death.
It makes you forget that she spent nearly three months in the hospital, 21 days of that in an induced coma.
It also makes you forget that Makeila, known as Kiki to friends and family, has had 15 surgeries to take skin from the unburned portions of her body to replace the areas that had been burned.
"When she first came home, she was withdrawn, didn't talk much," said Shirley Pressley, 51, Kiki's grandmother. "Now, she's so vibrant, full of energy and we are so blessed for her to be like that today."
Because Kiki, now 12, resumed living as if the fire never happened, she is being given the Courage Award at today's 8th Annual Community Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner that's held in North Greenwood. The dinner is sponsored by the Community Golfers and Short Block Technologies. Last year, nearly 800 people joined the meal.
"We want young people in the community to see the courage she has not to give up, not to be afraid and ashamed to come out in public," said O'neal Larkin, the dinner organizer.
"Things happen to you, your life must go on. I wanted to let her know that the Community Golfers are proud of her and show others that you just don't give up because things happen to you in life."
Sitting in the front room of her grandmother's home last week, Makeila simply smiled when she was asked how things were going.
"Good," the Dunedin Middle School sixth-grader said, again flashing her smile.
And when asked about her Greenwood Panthers cheerleading squad, Kiki's smile got even bigger.
Kiki was the only family member who didn't escape the home at 916 Eldridge St. when fire broke out on Feb. 23, 2008. The resulting injuries sent her to the burn center at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Cincinnati for nearly three months. Many didn't think she would ever cheer again.
"It was hard for her to go back and cheer at first because everyone is looking at you," said Davana Pressley, Kiki's mother. "But she really wanted to."
And she did.
The Greenwood Panthers recently won the junior midget division at a cheerleading competition in Lakeland. Kiki was there on the squad and was a base in her stunt group. She was on the sideline during the football games.
The family's biggest concern has been ensuring that Kiki's self-esteem was intact, despite the visible reminders from the fire.
"I thought we were going to have a lot of trouble with it," Davana said. "But she has good spirits and that's a good thing. I try to talk to her and keep her self-esteem and morale up."
And recently there's been more good news.
Kiki learned that she likely will not need additional skin grafts and she doesn't have to visit the doctor again for another year.
When asked how she felt about getting the Courage Award, Kiki didn't say a word. She just flashed her big smile.
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com or (727) 445-4174