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Shutterfly surprises LI kids with NYC billboard of their art for essential workers

Kelli-Rose Simpson Forde, 7, of Elmont, and Xavier

Kelli-Rose Simpson Forde, 7, of Elmont, and Xavier Garcia, 5, of Lindenhurst, created artwork for Shutterfly's #CreateThanks campaign that was displayed on a Manhattan billboard. Both children have family members who are essential workers. Credit: Newsday / Rachel Weiss; Photo Credit: Shutterfly c/o Bridget Haggerty at Outfront Media

The artwork of Kelli-Rose Simpson Forde, 7, went from her front door in Elmont to a huge billboard in Manhattan.

She created art to say thank you to essential workers for Shutterfly’s #CreateThanks campaign. The photography company launched the effort as a way to encourage children to uplift essential workers with art, and then share a photo of their masterpiece with the hashtag.

Karlene Simpson, Kelli-Rose’s mother, said she’s a longtime Shutterfly user and came across the campaign on their website. Simpson asked her daughter if she’d like to participate, and she happily agreed.

Kelli-Rose’s drawing included rainbows, smiley faces and stickers, and she wrote “Thank you for keeping us safe” in purple marker.

This message was important to Kelli-Rose for a reason that’s close to home: “My grandfather is an essential worker,” she said. “He is a bus driver and he helps people go to places.”

Kelvin Simpson is a transportation worker for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and became ill with the COVID-19 virus in March. Karlene Simpson said he battled the virus for 2 1/2 months, and recently recovered and returned to work.

“It was hard for [Kelli-Rose] because she was used to running to her grandpa all the time, and she had to stay away,” Simpson said. “Now since he’s been better and back at work, she doesn’t give him a moment to be alone. It’s like she’s making up for those two and a half months she couldn’t be with her grandpa.”

Simpson displayed her daughter’s artwork on their front door after submitting it to Shutterfly’s #CreateThanks effort.

“She was very eager for the people who deliver our packages to see it, because we did a lot of online ordering in this time, of course,” she said.

Over in Lindenhurst around this time, 5-year-old Xavier Garcia was hard at work on his own art. He drew two doctors and a nurse with the handwritten caption, “Thank you superheroes!”

Why are they superheroes? “Because they’re fighting the virus,” he said.

Xavier’s aunt is a nurse’s assistant at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, and his mother, April Yeomans, is a substitute teacher for the Half Hollow Hills School District.

Yeomans is an art-certified educator and when she found out about #CreateThanks, she thought it was a perfect opportunity while they were at home during the pandemic. “We didn’t expect anything,” she said. “He was just doing something nice to show support.”

Both families were contacted by Shutterfly and invited to Manhattan on June 15 for a surprise.

Karlene Simpson said she didn’t know what to expect.

“That morning, [Kelli-Rose] kept asking me where we were going,” she said. “Then, she noticed it before I did.”

And there it was: A huge billboard on the corner of 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue that included Kelli-Rose and Xavier’s artwork, vibrantly on display. Shutterfly chose this spot, near the Port Authority Bus Terminal, to uplift the commutes of essential workers returning to their jobs during the pandemic.

Yeomans said her son’s initial reaction to seeing his drawing on such a huge scale was, “How did it get up there?”

“He got so excited,” she said. “He was jumping up and down.”

Kelli-Rose said she was “happy and surprised.” Her grandfather came along on the Manhattan trip, and they took plenty of photos in front of the billboard together.

Karlene Simpson and Yeomans agreed that they couldn’t believe the end result of their children’s artistic endeavors. When Yeomans got the news, “I thought it was a scam at first,” she said with a laugh.

“I didn’t think it was going to become this special moment,” said Simpson, who has been collecting her daughter’s artwork in a folder since her preschool days.

Kelli-Rose and Xavier will surely keep drawing and delivering messages of hope throughout the pandemic.

Said Kelli-Rose, “To all essential workers, I would like to say thank you for keeping us safe.”

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