8:53 AM PDT, July 7, 2021
An empathetic creative made a heartfelt connection with a 4-year-old during the pandemic over their love of fairies and imagination.
Kelly Kenney, aka Sapphire the Fairy, made viral news recently after she and her now 5-year-old penpal were gifted a trip to Disneyland by Oprah Winfrey.
Kenney’s introduction to Eliana began when she stumbled across a beautiful fairy garden.
“When I first saw the fairy garden it was so well done and beautifully set-up that I thought it had to have been made by adults. But then I saw the note that it was made by a 4-year-old little girl and I was so impressed.”
As a designer and photographer, Kenney has her own creative inclinations, but she also spoke about the place that imagination and creativity has in her relationship with her nephews and children she used to nanny. “I always left them little notes and did creative projects with them so I immediately felt a connection to this girl and her parents,” she said.
On her walk back home, she had the idea to lean into the little girl’s hard work and write a note from the perspective of a fairy that had chosen this garden because of how well-prepared it was.
Kenney shared that her desire to make this little girl happy came not only from her love of imagination and children, but her own desire for positivity. The young photographer had been separated from her family in Norway due to the pandemic. “I had to cancel my trip to Norway to see my family and this almost pacified that need to be interacting with my nephews.” she said.
Kenney was also stuck in an unhealthy living situation, as stay-at-home orders put a barrier on separating from her now ex-boyfriend.
“I was trapped with this person who was making me feel horrible and unlovable every day but I’d have my night walks and I’d leave her the notes and gifts and pick up the ones she’d leave me and it immediately helped me escape the dark feelings I was having.” she said.
Eliana’s mother helped the young girl write back to her new friend, resulting in their letter-writing and gift-giving spanning months.
“Suddenly, her believing in Sapphire and saying sweet things to Sapphire helped me drown out all the nasty things being said at home.”
Kenney and Eliana bonded over their mutual love of science and art, and the photographer took joy in being able to provide positivity for the little one during such a difficult time. “My heart broke for all the children missing out on seeing their friends and going to school so I’d add little things in the letter to encourage her to learn about new things that week like cloud types, or how to write a book.” she said.
Kenney shared her story about Eliana on Twitter and it blew up, surpassing her expectations. “I didn’t do what I did for any attention and suddenly overnight 90,000 people and counting were enjoying the story and saying such kind things,” she said.
“It was such a huge contrast from how I had felt just months before. It was almost hard to accept.”
The popularity of the post spread, and Winfrey caught wind of the sweet connection the two had made, and decided to treat them to a special trip to Disneyland, free of charge.
“I was and still am bewildered by getting contacted by Oprah… I was just completely in tears… When her team called me a week later to coordinate a Disney trip, it kinda all set in and I was talking to Emily, Eliana’s mom and we were both just speechless every day,” she said. “And let me tell you, Oprah delivered. It was the most incredible day, every moment I shared with Eliana and her family will be one of the most treasured memories of my life.”
The young girl and Kenney maintain their connection through this fairy world they have created together, even after seeing each other in-person a couple of times. “Now that things have mostly lifted, we’ve been able to see each other one more time but she’s still under the impression that most of the time I am fairy-sized so we can’t do too many in-person visits.” she said.
“We still leave gifts for each other and are able to talk on ‘FairyTime’ (FaceTime).”
Kenney has grown to care deeply for the little girl and her parents, and believes that she will remain in contact with them all as time goes on. The creative said that she knows at some point the little one will realize that Sapphire is just a woman named Kelly, but she says the only difference between her and the character are the elf ears and fairy wings.
Eliana’s mother shared that the presence of Sapphire aided in easing the young girl’s difficulty in being separated from her friends, and aided in her own self-confidence. “I didn’t have someone like Sapphire when I was a kid, I think it would’ve helped me with my insecurities and self-confidence and overall loneliness.” Kenney said.
“I can only imagine how this will help her in the future to always be compassionate, empathetic and keep a childlike sense of wonder, even during difficult times.”
This experience has aided Kenney in realizing the importance of taking time out to do things for others, even if the effort is small, because, “…it can change your entire life.”
Kenney said, “I’ve also just seen so, so much goodness in people during a time when things seemed bleak for everyone. We were all lonely, we all needed a happy story and there are so many more out there to be shared.”