The passion in 22-year-old Paige Stoker’s voice explains how her Big Smiles Program has become so successful in such a short amount of time. With a keen interest in the arts, Stoker wanted to make a difference in children’s lives. So, she combined her two interests and created Big Smiles with a friend in February. The group of volunteers brings the arts — including paint, brushes, canvases and much more — to patients at UCLA Children’s Hospital.
Born and raised in Malibu, Stoker was a star athlete while attending Malibu High. She competed in volleyball, soccer and track, all while maintaining a 3.9 GPA. She is currently attending San Diego State University with one year left to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and art therapy. She plans on continuing her education to receive a master’s degree in marriage & family therapy and art therapy.
The Malibu Times got a chance to sit down with the woman who is dedicating her life to “making kids feel like kids again instead of patients.”
Tell me a little about what Big Smiles is about.
We go to Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA with art supplies and set up on the patio and the kids come out and participate. We paint, and sing and dance. We used to go once a month; now we go twice a month. We want to make the kids feel like kids again instead of patients. We’re completely separate from the hospital. We just hang out and paint with them. We want to create smiles and happiness for the kids to heal. We’re there on the weekends so families also participate. We started in February and call our sessions Paint Day.
What inspired you to co-found it? What have you learned in the time that you’ve done it?
I’ve always been creative and artistic, but did it just on my own. At the beginning of the year, I talked to my friend from high school, Bryan Spunt, about the career I want to pursue and he said he was interested in the same route. But he was interested in the business aspect of it and went to business school. So we combined our forces and co-founded Big Smiles.
I’ve learned about how simple it is to make someone happy and smile. It’s the little things that are so important. The parents thank us tremendously.
Do you have any plans for expansion?
Yes, we’re expanding to Tarzana Hospital in October. My schooling is slowing things down a little bit right now; otherwise, we would have expanded to many more hospitals. We had a fundraiser and raised $13,000 for supplies. The amount of money raised in the fundraiser shows how incredible this program is and how it’s all worth it and will work out in the end. We’re just a big team of 22-23 year olds with different backgrounds who have come together to put our skills together. I didn’t think I’d be doing anything this major until after grad school. It’s all so exciting.
You were quite the athlete in high school. Which sports do you still play?
I don’t play competitively anymore, but I still play soccer and beach volleyball for fun. Everyone in my family plays sports and we play together.
What is your opinion on the current presidential race?
It’s insane and intense. I try not to listen. But I will absolutely vote.
Where would you like to see yourself 10 years from now?
Hopefully, I’ll be expanding this program around the world. I’d love to travel and train people — go from country to country and establish the program.
What’s an interesting or unique fact about you that people don’t know?
I have dual citizenship with Canada. My dad is Canadian. Half my family is on the East Coast-side of Canada.
What is your favorite thing about Malibu? If you could change one thing about Malibu what would it be and why?
I like how it’s a giant family. Everywhere you go, you see a familiar face and everyone is looking out for one another.
I would love to have fewer tourists so there would be less traffic and trash.
How was it having your portrait painted by Johanna Spinks?
It was really intimidating at first, but I’ve known Johanna for a long time and we had a great conversation. After two minutes in, it was fine.