Secrete Smiles

Charity honors 9/11 victim with bed donations
Tracy Janess keeps her sister’s memory alive through nonprofit. 

By Mary McCarty, Staff Writer
Updated 11:28 PM Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Dayton Daily News

Tracy Janess of Kettering hasn’t seen her sister — Kristy Irvine Ryan, a bride of three months — since a month before her death in the World Trade Center.

Yet she’s with her every time she presents a bed to a child through Secret Smiles of Dayton, a charity founded in Kristy’s honor. To date the charity has provided more than 2,300 beds for children in Montgomery County and raised $500,000.

“I think it’s a beautiful way to honor Kristy’s legacy,” said her husband, Brendan Ryan, of Huntington, Long Island.

Ryan and his sister-in-law chose very different ways to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Ryan attended the dedication of the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero along with Kristy’s father, Stu Irvine, and two of her other sisters. Janess never turned on the TV and concentrated instead on organizing the Sept. 19 “Dream Big” Golf Classic at the Dayton Country Club.

“I’m not concentrating on the last hour of her life, but the 30 years prior to that,” she said.

Secrets Smiles was founded by Kristy and her friend Meredith O’Neill Hassett, a Harlem kindergarten teacher who wanted to help some of the underprivileged children in her school district. They called it Secret Smiles because they were helping the families anonymously, often at Christmas time.

Kristy worked as an equities trader for Sandler O’Neill and Partners on the 104th floor of 2 World Trade Center. “Kristy had a high-pressure job yet she still took the time to do this,” Ryan recalled. “It made us enjoy our holidays a lot more. A lot of her charitable impulses stemmed from things she did as a University of Dayton student.”

Secret Smiles lives on today not only in the Dayton chapter but also in the New York charity, Kristy Smile, which raises funds for underprivileged children. Recently the organization has reached out to a double amputee from Kristy’s hometown who was wounded in Afghanistan. “We helped to make his home more handicapped-friendly,” Ryan said. “He’s a true hero.”

When looking for a focus for her new charity, Janess realized, “The biggest need was beds and bedding. People donate clothes but almost no one donates a bed.”

It was a need that resonated deeply with the community. Noted Molly Treese of Oakwood, a board member for the all-volunteer organization, “What is the most important thing to a child? It’s a bed. Yet so many children in our community don’t have a bed.”

One of their most invaluable community partners is Morris Furniture Co., which provides beds, cribs and bedding at less than wholesale prices and delivers them at no charge.

“When they told us it was about helping children and giving them the safe haven of a bed — something that every child should have — that gets to the core of our business,” said president and CEO Larry Klaben.

Secret Smiles works closely with various local agencies, providing beds for Daybreak emergency shelter as well as clients of the Artemis Center for Alternatives to Domestic Violence and the Elizabeth New Life Center.

Since 2008, Secret Smiles has provided a bed and bedding for each of the 92 children who have moved into a Habitat for Humanity home. “This is a benefit to families we would not be offering if it weren’t for Secret Smiles,” said Frieda Brigner, development director for the local chapter. “You should see their faces. A lot of the children have been sharing beds or sleeping on couches, mats or sleeping bags.”

In addition to the new beds, sheets, blankets, pillows, mattress pads, the children are given “Dream Big” pillowcases filled with special quiet activities, toys and books — often picked out by the children of the Secret Smiles volunteers who attend the dedications of the new Habitat homes.

“Our children experienced the world-changing events of 9/11,” Treese said. “At the Habitat dedications, they’re learning that the end of the story is that evil and terror are not what the world is all about. They’re learning to count their blessings, and they’re learning a whole different perspective. That’s a gift that Kristy has given to all of us.

In the process, Janess and her family — her husband Brian and children Lizzie, Sarah and Timmy — have gained as much as they’ve given.

“Over the years, it has allowed me to move forward in a way that’s positive and good, and not get stuck in the negativity of Kristy’s death,” Janess explained. “It is very healing.”

When she talks to her three children about their Aunt Kristy, she said, “We don’t talk about 9/11. We talk about Secret Smiles.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2209 or mmccarty@DaytonDailyNews.com

Janess, Tracy. "Charity honors 9/11 victim with bed donations." Dayton Daily News, September 14, 2011. Online. Available: http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/dayton-news/charity-honors-9-11-victim-with-bed-donations-1253404.html

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How Can You Be a Part of Secret Smiles?

Your gift will help us continue our work toward improving the quality of life for needy families in the Dayton community by providing basic family necessities. Donations can be made on-line or by sending a check payable to Secret Smiles of Dayton, Inc. and mailing it to:

Secret Smiles of Dayton, Inc.
P.O. Box 291903
Dayton, Ohio 45429-0903

Help us make a delivery and experience firsthand how Secret Smiles helps needy families in our community.

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© Secret Smiles of Dayton, Inc. is a U.S. 501(c)(3) charitable
Donations are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law.
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