Gift Smile Inside

Who Doesn’t Want to Have a Smile Inside? 

The small business housed in Northside Marketplace features emotional skills building handbooks, board games and our favorite … warm fuzzies. 

By Shamna Chuwan

People look at the world and they do not think there is a problem with it, but I do. I see messy dysfunctional relationships; I see people who are suffering,” Vanessa Abraham, owner, and operator of Smile Inside, located in Northside Marketplace said. 

She has a solution though – self-awareness.

A former k-12 educator, Abraham’s inspiration came from a simple question she encountered when in high school: Why aren't we taught to understand ourselves better? 

Abraham took a couple of courses in high school that contained components of self-reflection, but she couldn’t understand why they were just electives. 

“I cannot think of anything more important than understanding how to navigate life,” Abraham said. 

She isn’t trying to say that other lessons aren’t important. 

“I appreciate that Algebra develops logic and critical thinking skills, she said, but I realized that kids themselves have a challenging time learning if social and emotional needs are not taken care of.”

Vanessa Abraham hopes that by helping people develop self-awareness skills through Smile Inside she will make a genuine difference in the world.

Smile Inside may have had its roots in high school, but it had its beginning in Australia.

Abraham earned her degree in education from Ohio University and moved abroad to Australia, where she began to develop the ideas, she had documented in her journal into a series of activities and handbooks. 

The handbooks focus on sixth through ninth grade students and include topics such as Focus and Listening, Empathy and Respect, Self-Talk, Self-Exploration, Emotions and Coping, Problem Solving and Decision Making, Goal Setting, Group Dynamics, and Esprit de Corps through Service Learning. These were the start of a business in Australia that would eventually include being a contracted service provider to agencies and schools.

In January of 2013, Abraham began to sell her handbooks on a website for educators, called Later that year, both books were available on Amazon and other online booksellers. 

In 2015, Abraham moved back to the United States. Without the reputation or network she had in Australia, she shifted her focus to providing resources for the caring professions, particularly those who work with children and teens.

Her workbooks have grown and filled with more opportunities and experiences. Each experience leads the participants self-realization and equips them with tools for living an aware and responsible life. This in turn helps them grow successfully into adulthood. 

Abraham now offers resources for kids, tweens, teens, parents, and professionals right inside of Akron’s Northside Marketplace.

What will you find in Northside? You’ll see workbooks, resources, emotional games, and fidgets to name a few things. But we can pretty much guarantee that your eyes aren’t going to gravitate toward any of those things the first time you walk up to her space right outside of India Ink.

Nope, what’s going to immediately captivate you is a large tree (yes, an indoor tree), filled with the stars of the Smile Inside Show – the warm fuzzies.

What’s a warm fuzzy? Well, other than an adorable little turn of phrase to describe an act of kindness, at Smile Inside, the warm fuzzies are small, white, fluffy critters with shiny glass eyes and their own personal sense of style.

Each fuzzy has an outfit, accessory or hat that distinguishes it from the others. The tree has a little box of adoption certificates so you can name your warm fuzzy and officially adopt them. 

The hats and outfits are far more creative than you might guess. Gift a warm fuzzy with some custom couture to a parent this Mother’s or Father’s Day and invite them to give it to their child. Send along the adoption paperwork and the warm fuzzy’s request that acts of kindness start with mom and dad. It’s a non-traditional gift to be sure, but one that many parents and their children might appreciate.

Abraham has other products and services focused on children including customized workshops, code books that provide a practical way to set and track goals that enhance social and emotional intelligence, a digital Goal-setting activity for teens to do independently - and a one-of-a-kind board game. 

“Feel” in the Blanks is a game that uses question cards, a list of emotions, and dice to facilitate open dialogue about a person’s emotions and experiences. 

In addition to the products available at Northside, Abraham sells many of her items in packages and sells them to schools, organizations, booksellers and retailers. Those who purchase in bulk save 40% on the retail pricing. 

For teachers and professionals, the handbooks can be scaled up to work for an entire class. Each handbook contains seventy-one fun activities with clear instructions, perfect for teachers, youth workers, and counselors. It covers topics like icebreakers, empathy, goal setting, and more to help kids grow and connect. Abraham also offers middle school counselor/youth worker bundle which includes a book, game, and warm fuzzy. 

Abraham’s next goal is to produce “Feel in the Blanks,” her emotional literacy game on a larger scale to get it into more people’s hands. This all goes back to her goal of helping people develop those self-awareness and interpersonal skills.

Abraham intends her materials for children from diverse backgrounds. Having worked as an education support specialist coaching/tutoring young people in foster care, and other children and teenagers with special needs and behavioral issues, inclusivity is a priority for Smile Inside. The materials in her handbooks are meant to serve a wide audience.

What is success to Abraham?

“I work myself out of a job,” she said. 

For her, true success comes when the student doesn’t need her anymore. Her students who achieve all As and Bs and have become independent and confident in their skills are her greatest accomplishments.

Smile Inside products may not be a fit for every mom, dad, or grad on your list, but consider those with small children, special needs children, graduates of education and counseling programs and professionals who work in those areas. Visit Smile Inside at Northside Marketplace (21 Furnace St.) or online at Keep in touch with Abraham and her warm fuzzies on Instagram and Facebook

Photos of Vanessa Abraham and Smile Inside shop at Northside Marketplace by Shamna Chuwan.

To reach content author Shamna Chuwan,  email her here.

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