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Vero Beach Publix employee makes sure her mask doesn’t hide her smile

Asli Knowles at Publix.
Asli Knowles wearing her custom mask from Brian Travers.
Posted at 4:21 PM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 13:26:27-04

VERO BEACH, Fla. — They say a smile is worth a thousand words. But, in the world we are living in today, masks are covering those up. However, a Treasure Coast woman has found a way to get past that.

Her name is Asli Knowles and she works as a cashier at a Publix in Vero Beach. Knowles says that a smile is a part of her uniform. A few months ago, a face mask had to be added to the outfit and the smile, well it didn’t disappear, but it was clearly no longer a visible piece. Knowles, discouraged by that, began looking into alternatives.

“I say a smile can change the world. I just did something little, small,” said Knowles.

That something small has turned real big, bigger than Knowles ever imagined. She came across a Broward County man named Brian Travers. Travers relied on lip reading for the last 10 years until his recent cochlear implant surgery. That elective surgery was postponed because of the pandemic. Travers found himself feeling defeated the day he went to his daughters schools to retrieve laptops for their virtual learning. He was having trouble communicating with school employees who were wearing masks because he couldn’t read their lips. He went home and his wife, an ICU nurse, taught him how to use her sewing machine. From there, “Anchor Homemade Designs” was born from his Coconut Creek home. He has created a face covering that features a clear piece around the mouth.

Brian Travers sewing his custom masks.
Brian Travers sewing his custom masks.

Knowles saw the mask and reached out to Travers requesting one. Yes, she wanted to make sure shoppers could still feel the warmth of her smile, but she also wanted to protect and help her customers who have difficulty hearing.

“Every time they come to my register or they ask me a question, I have to pull off my mask and talk with them. I don’t want to put anyone in danger,” said Knowles.

Travers says the messages and requests are endless. But Knowles’ stood out. He got right to work sewing her a green mask to match her uniform and mailed it to Vero Beach.

“A simple employee of a huge market chain, she basically just said I want people comfortable in this time, to come into this store and if they don’t see anything else other than my smile, my job is done. That just floored me personally,” said Travers.

The reaction Knowles has gotten from customers, especially those who are hard of hearing, has been nothing short of amazing.

“The other day there was one other customer, she said she’s teaching sign language and she started crying. She said I cannot believe it, you are just like holding my heart on your hands now, you are touching my soul,” said Knowles as she described some of the feedback she has received.

What Knowles didn’t know, is that Travers also mailed something else. A letter to her manager making sure they knew what an incredible frontline worker they have in their store.

Brian Travers' letter to Publix praising Asli Knowles.
Brian Travers' letter to Publix praising Asli Knowles.

“I see the letter and I just start crying. It was like the most touching thing I ever read and I was not expecting anything,” said Knowles.

Another letter was sent. This one, to WPTV from a viewer and Publix shopper, Darlene Barber. She was so moved by Knowles’ positivity.

“It’s very, very tough times. And that’s why I emailed you and said listen, we’re in real grim times and this woman has gone the extra mile and I feel she really needs recognition and show the world there are positive things and people out there doing things to help the community. And please jump on board people,” said Barber.

John Krasinski, from the hit TV show “The Office” got wind of Knowles’ story and shared it with his 1 million followers on Instagram. From there, the “paying it forward” has begun. Knowles has a side business making customized lollipops called Turco Pops. A stranger reached out to her saying he noticed she did not have a website and offered to make one for her, for free. She was blown away and still stands by her message, which she says is simple, “We need to protect ourselves. We need to protect others. And we’re going to get through this together. We just need to keep smiling, put our mask on and wash our hands. I think that’s the only solution."

If you want to share a story about someone else who is doing things to inspire South Florida, please send us an e-mail about them to InspiringSFL@wptv.com.