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​After losing parents, 6-year-old embarks on smile mission

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- It is every kid's worst nightmare and six-year-old Jaden Hayes has lived it -- twice. First he lost his dad when he was four and then last month his mom died unexpectedly in her sleep.

"I tried and I tried and I tried to get her awake -- I couldn't," said Jaden.

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Jaden Hayes
Barbara DiCola

Jaden is understandably heartbroken.

"Anybody can die, just anybody," he said.

But there's another side to his grief. A side he first made public a few weeks ago when he told his aunt, and now guardian, Barbara DiCola, that he was sick and tired of seeing everyone sad all the time. And he had a plan to fix it.

"And that was the beginning of it," said Barbara. "That's where the adventure began."

Jaden asked his aunt Barbara to buy a bunch of little toys and bring him to downtown Savannah, Georgia near where he lives, so he could give them away.

"I'm trying to make people smile," said Jaden.

Jaden targets people who aren't already smiling and then turns their day around. He's gone out on four different occasions now and he is always successful. Even if sometimes he doesn't get exactly the reaction he was hoping for.

It is just so overwhelming to some people that a six-year-old orphan would give away a toy -- expecting nothing in return -- except a smile.

Of course he is paid handsomely in hugs -- and his aunt says the reactions have done wonders for Jaden.

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Jaden Hayes, middle, with two strangers he helped make smile
Barbara DiCola

"It's like sheer joy came out of this child," said Barbara. "And the more people that he made smile, the more this light shone."

Jaden says that's mostly true.

"But I'm still sad my mom died," he said.

This is by no means a fix, but in the smiles he's made so far -- nearly 500 at last count -- Jaden has clearly found a purpose.

"I'm counting on it to be 33,000," said Jaden.

When asked if he thinks he can make that goal, he answered: "I think I can."

I think he just did.


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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.