Laura Pita, who has lived in Weston for seven years, says she has always been a tomboy with girly-girl tendencies. Illustrating the point, she talks with enthusiasm about her participation in the Danskin Women’ Triathlon in Disney on Mother’s Day multiple times. And the day we were making arrangements to meet with her, she explained that she would load her dress forms in the car as soon as the Philadelphia Eagles game was over. (Originally from Philly, she’s a devoted Eagles fan.)
But it’s the inner strength she exhibits while creating fantasies out of tulle for seriously ill children that really drives the point home about the yin and yang of her strong and soft sides.
The day after her mother died from recurring melanoma and as her son Josh, 7 at the time, was undergoing treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Laura created her first tutu.
“I made that first one for my niece, one of the only young girls in our extended family,” said Laura. She explained that her mother had always been crafty. So, in addition to helping her pass the time in the hospital with her son Josh, creating the tulle skirt was a connection to her mother whom she had just lost.
With that first tutu, a magical idea took flight. Laura decided she would create tutus for the children undergoing treatment on the hematology/oncology floor at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Florida.
“My mother passed away on April 10, 2011. By April 11, a group of girlfriends and I were thinking of a name for the group, and by April 12, I was starting the paper work to create the nonprofit.
Emmy’s Heart is the name they decided upon in loving memory of Josh’s grandmother and biggest supporter, Emmy.
Laura is the “Chief Dream Officer” of the nonprofit, and the idea quickly grew beyond tutus with her group of friends and relatives joining the cause and making other dream-launching accessories. Her friend Malinda Mortell is the “Cape Crusader,” creating capes; Ida Pearce is the “Crown Princess,” constructing the fantasy headwear; Laura’s aunts, Betsy O’Connell and Jane Welsh, are the Mask Mavens; her sister, Liz Burt is a “Flight Instructor,” as is her mother-in-law Naida Revelo, who helps make the tutus.
“All our titles have to do with flight,” said Laura. “Emmy’s Heart is about giving the children the opportunity to forget they are sick for a little while. The capes, tutus, crowns and masks help them fly to wherever their imaginations can take them.”
Laura distributes the capes and tutus about once a month room by room on the days Josh has chemotherapy.
When asked about the reaction of the children who receive the costumes, Laura said. “Just joy! They giggle! They can’t decide which one to pick they are so excited. But, honestly, I don’t who is happier – me or the kids.”
And what does Josh think about it? “He thinks it’s great,” said Laura. “He helps me pick out the tulle colors for the tutus. I raise my eyebrows at some of his color combinations, but those are usually the ones the kids pick first!”
Josh, who has three brothers, John (10), Matthew (6), Keagan (4), was diagnosed the day before Thanksgiving in 2010. He has started his final eight-weeks of intense chemotherapy treatment and is planning to return to school right before Thanksgiving this year. He will finish chemotherapy completely in March, 2014.
Laura has no plans to stop bringing ill children joy. In addition to continuing to distribute at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, she’ll soon expand to Bethesda Memorial Hospital in Palm Beach County. Her ultimate vision is to recruit and create “local chapters” and provide the direction, instruction and inspiration to bring the same happiness into the lives of children in pediatric units across the United States.
She says what Emmy’s Heart needs most is money for the supplies. “All the money – 100% – goes to buying supplies for the materials for the items.” She added, “We don’t pay salaries. I pay my volunteers in brownies and wine.”
To help make a difference:
- Give a donation on www.emmysheart.org.
- Host a tutu party. It’s an excellent way to spend a night out with the girls. Tutus require no sewing skills and allow for lots of conversation and fun. If you would you like to schedule a tutu party of your own, contact Laura Pita at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-830-9896.
- Purchase a tutu for your own princess at Emmy’s Heart’s online store site: http://www.etsy.com/shop/emmysheart. 100 percent of the profits will help make more tutus and capes for hospitalized kids.
Emmy’s Heart will also be selling tutus at Saint Bonaventure’s Catholic Church’s annual Boutique Night on September 23 in Davie, at Manatee Bay’s Fall Festival on October 22 in Weston, and at Temple Dor Dorim’s Holiday Boutique on November 2 in Weston.