Lily Sarah Grace Fund

Making Art the Heart of Learning

By Linda T. Kennedy
Editor’s note: this is the second story in a 3-part SLN Watch special series

It’s not uncommon to find organizations in which the impetus for their birth and purpose is to memorialize the accomplishments of lives well lived. But when an organization takes on a life of its own and has the potential to change entire social systems that impact the very development of humanity, that’s an evolution to behold.

That’s what’s happening with the Lily Sarah Grace (LSG) Fund; a New York, N.Y.-based organization founded in 2012 to honor Lily, Sarah and Grace Badger who were lost Christmas morning, 2011, in a Connecticut house fire. Today, LSG Founder Matthew Badger, and LSG Co-Founder and Creative Director Abby Ballin continue awarding art supply grants to educators in impoverished U.S. public schools.

But now, with its own Arts-Infused, Inquiry–Based education (AIIBL – pronounced “able”) initiative, LSG also pulsates in the laughter and expression of children learning academic subjects through the arts. The AIIBL learning model incorporates the philosophy of arts-based learning projects with the philosophy that children also learn through collaborating in groups.

“The arts are the wheels that move the vehicle of innovative thinking and learning forward,” explains Emily Lopez, principal founder of AIIBL. “In this case, the vehicle is inquiry — research, asking questions and collaborating with others that facilitates learning. Inquiry can be engaging to any person, but when you add in the arts, it creates a learning connection for every type of learner, and learning and innovation go hand in hand.”

Initially, Badger and Ballin had no idea their LSG Fund vehicle would rapidly accelerate beyond providing teachers with paint and paper. But by the end of their first-year school bus tour, Badger and Ballin’s immersion in classroom environments resulted in a swelling passion to do more with infusing children’s learning environment with art.

“We filmed in all these different classrooms, we made all these different films, we interviewed all these different teachers, and through visiting with those that we gave supplies to, we were able to form a group to collaborate on the future of LSG,” explains Badger. “Through that process, this idea of inquiry-based learning emerged.”

From their school visits, Badger and Ballin identified a group of teachers representing each region in the U.S. who would serve as the LSG Ed Council. Emily Lopez, principal at Magnet Public Elementary School in Norwalk, Conn., would lead the group in taking the organization into its next phase of growth and development.

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Arts-Infused, Inquiry–Based Learning

The new 10-member LSG Ed Council met in New York for the first time during summer 2013. They created the LSG’s future grant criteria, and AIIBL, a teaching methodology that takes arts-based learning into another realm. They also defined the criteria for an AIIBL grant, which would be awarded to teachers incorporating the model into their classrooms in the future.

“AIIBL is an inquiry-based learning model that utilizes the arts, but the arts are integrated as a method by which they gain an understanding in some area, as well a way to show what they’ve learned and the thoughts they’ve created on their own,” says Lopez, explaining that other arts-infused education models integrate art into traditional curriculum, but in this model, inquiry allows kids to drive the direction of study. “They are asking the questions and that’s what’s driving the project forward. Project-based learning has the potential to be more teacher-driven, whereas inquiry-based learning is more student driven.”

The Ed Council built AIIBL’s tenets upon Howard Gardener’s Multiple Intelligences. Gardener, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, developed the theory that all human beings possess several intelligences: visual, verbal, mathematical, bodily/kinesthetic, music/rhythmic, intrapersonal, interpersonal, naturalist existentialist and spatial intellects, and they also have the capacity to develop all of them.

But one of the chief educational implications of the theory is that since each human being has their own unique configuration of intelligences, educators should teach individuals in ways that they can learn. Then, the theory asserts, that teachers should assess students in a way that allows them to show what they understand and to apply their knowledge and skills in unfamiliar contexts.

“AIIBL allows as many different access points to content and thinking as possible within a unit of study so that learners of all different types have multiple exposures,” explains Lopez. “They can apply their strengths to expand their thinking and understanding, as well as use their strengths to support and strengthen areas that may be challenging for them. You can take a child who is very creative and has an opportunity to express themselves and what they know about the solar system by means of something other than a written report, or just reading about it.”

AIIBL to Change Education

Several education models are represented in today’s arts-based versus traditional curricula debates, brought forward with the question: “What will students need to evolve into tomorrow’s workforce?” In a Feb. 2013 PBS.org article “Can STEM really succeed?” David A. Sousa and Tom Pilecki examine the benefit of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) funding in the schools at the cost of art education programs. They acknowledge creative problem solving as a critical skill in STEM and that brain research shows that creativity can be taught – evidence to support the integration of arts-related topics and skills into STEM area courses.

The article says that because there are only so many hours in the school day, one consequence of increasing instruction in the STEM areas has been to decrease instructional time in stand-alone arts classes. Tight budgets and high-stakes testing in reading and mathematics have furthered the trend, it says. But the article also says that the thorough study and application of the scientific, technical, and mathematical principles embodied in the STEM subjects require skills that can be significantly enhanced by training in arts-related areas.

Sousa and Pilecki’s observances chime with Lopez’ thoughts about 21st century skill sets and tomorrow’s workforce. “When you look at what needs to be done professionally nowadays, you need to be able to discuss, justify your opinion, work in a team and problem solve – that involves inquiry. And to compete on the global level, we have to be innovative,” Lopez says. “But our current education model was not set up for our current day and age of innovation; it was created to meet the needs of industrialization – it was set up to teach people how to be factory workers. And that’s got to shift.”

Shifting Focus to Innovation

Badger knew education needed a shift too; his daughters were examples of Sousa and Pilecki’s observations. Badger visited his daughter’s classrooms frequently and could relate to their challenges as dyslexics. “I did badly in school. And my psyche was damaged by that failure,” he recalls. “Experiencing daily failure as an elementary child has lasting ramifications. I dreaded subjects like math, but the arts and sports kept me going at school.”

So, when Badger witnessed Lily experience school as a place of failure it caused him pain. Yet Grace’s love for school made him wonder what her teacher did differently. “It was Grace’s teacher Amy Schindel’s dedication to creative learning that allowed Grace to shine, “ he says. “Her classroom was filled with activities, projects, joy and education through the arts. She was very happy and she did very well.”

The Ed Council’s goals now have expanded to include seeing AIIBL adopted as the common place method of education in classrooms throughout the country. “I want this model to really help us redefine education in the future.” says Lopez. “I look at my job on a day-to-day basis that I am growing the future members of society. I want it to be one where we know how to live amongst each other and work together and have novel ideas that are powerful and purposeful – and that’s where I see AIIBL. I whole-heartedly believe Lily Sarah Grace has the potential to have big impact and create this for more children.”

Lopez’s wish is rapidly materializing. LSG Fund is now playing a role in classrooms in every state in the country, says Badger, through providing supplies and fueling the drive towards learning solutions in America’s classrooms with AIIBL. The Ed Council is now spearheading teacher training programs in Charlotte, N.C. and Los Angeles. Also, starting with this current fall semester, LSG is conducting a freshman course in AIIBL at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte and AIIBL professional development is being conducted at Albemarle Road Elementary School, in Charlotte, N.C..

“If schools don’t utilize aesthetic learning; which is learning by using your hands and doing things, then 40 percent in the classroom will not learn; that’s insane,” observes Badger. “That’s close to how many kids drop out of school. And it’s just awful when you think about how many kids are going to school hating it; that’s very sad.”

With almost every reference to LSG, Badger stresses it has evolved from one big collaboration from the beginning, a core skill promoted in the AIIBL model itself. “First it started with Abby and my dear friends, then it became a union of many, including teachers, parents, and artists. We now have volunteers across America,” he says. Essentially, LSG expanded to include all of the most revered people and associations in Badger and Ballin’s network, except for one: their dog Pippi Badger. But that would change soon, too.

Continue reading this series:
One for the Money
Lily’s Dog Raises Funds for LSG


One for the Money

Pippi Badger

Pippi Badger

Lily’s Dog Raises Funds for LSG

By Linda T. Kennedy
Editor’s note: this is the third story in a 3-part SLN Watch special series

Nearly three years since Badger and Ballin started the LSG Fund to memorialize Lily, Sarah and Grace, they are finally in a place where they can look back and see where they’ve been and where they’re going with the project. As of now, LSG has helped 160,000 public school students, granting more than a million dollars in supplies to teachers throughout the country.

LSG touches classrooms not only with resources, but with AIIBL, a new learning model and professional development program. But it can’t be said that all of this exceeds Badger’s and Ballin’s initial expectations; when they started LSG, there were none beyond actively channeling the love for their girls to other children.

“To be honest, we didn’t have any expectations, you can’t, I mean when you’re living in a nightmare it’s hard to dream,” says Ballin. “So it was basically saddle up and take the leap! We had to stay in the now because looking back or forward was far too painful.”

Staying in the “now” also meant relentless drive for Badger. “The first year I through myself into it on an obsessive level — it was a full-time commitment,” recalls Badger. “My abundance of love for the girls was poured into LSG and it gave me great purpose again.” And when Badger and Ballin arrived at the first school on the Bus Tour, Dawes Elementary School in Chicago, Ill. they saw, for the first time, what their love for Lily, Sarah and Grace looked like in the form of being transferred to others.

“That was really the pivotal moment of this journey for both Matt and myself,” recalls Ballin. We saw the joy on those kid’s faces and the empowerment we gave to that teacher and we knew we were doing something special and the presence of the girls was so very overwhelming. When we continued on and met more and more remarkable teachers and their precious students, it connected us to them, to each other, to this world. It was powerful.”

Emily Lopez, LSG Ed Council leader, says the connections came naturally because Badger has a knack for identifying talent. So it’s no wonder that eventually, Badger and Ballin identified another key figure to represent and drive LSG forward in its 4th year: Pippi Badger, Lily’s 6-pound maltipoo puppy who joined the family August 2011, for Lily’s 9th birthday.

6 Pounds of Mega-Purpose

Pippi made her first appearance as a spokesperson for LSG Sept. 24, 2014 in a Kickstarter video You Can’t Memorize This,” LSG’s first large fund-raising campaign.

The video illustrates, from Pippi’s perspective, the role Lily, Sarah and Grace played her life. Pippi also explains how she is helping further the LSG education mission with the book “Color Outside the Lines.” Several music, film, television and stage artists answered LSG’s call to help with the book by contributing a drawing of their own. And supporter’s endorsed the idea by pledging over $20,000 (LSG’s funding goal) to the Kickstarter project. LSG plans to publish the book with the Kickstarter funds.

“The compilation of drawings is based on the concept that all great thinkers think outside the box,” says Ballin, creative director of the campaign. “LilySarahGrace has enlisted some of the best, brightest and most unique thinkers of our generation to raise awareness for arts infused education in underfunded public elementary schools. We handed artists from a number of different disciplines a sketchpad and a marker and asked them to create a simple line drawing.”

Artists Bruno Mars, David Copperfield, Jennifer Aniston, Julianne Moore, Justin Theroux, Laura Dern, Lionel Richie, Naomi Watts, Tina Fey, Tom Arnold, Whoopi Goldberg, Will Ferrell; fashion designer, Diane Von Furstenberg; sculptor, Carole Feuerman; photographers, Laurie Simmons and Mark Seliger; chef, Mario Batali; painter and illustrator Sage Vaughn and many more personalities representing the visual and performing arts returned the sketchpad to LSG with their personal drawings.

The book also includes a drawing by jeweler Helen Ficalora, who designed the LilySarahGrace Eye Charm from one of Sarah’s own drawings. Ficalora is donating 25 percent of sales from the charms to LSG. Hers, and all the other drawings will be displayed at LSG Fund’s First Annual Gala, Oct. 25, 2014, Jack Studios 601 West 26th Street, New York City. Rufus Wainwright is slated to perform during the gala.

PippiBags (1)

Pippi Oct. 24, 2014 as the Gala swag bags were packed.

Becoming “Triumphant Survivors”

Despite the enormous talent the LSG team has recruited to further its mission and the tall accomplishments in such a short period, grief has been a constant undercurrent in Badger and Ballin’s journey. And they candidly acknowledge that grief will always accompany their efforts.

As a matter of fact, Badger says he really didn’t take time to grieve after losing his girls; he immediately immersed himself in LSG and now, still faces that personal work. “So, it is [the grief] still going on for me, it’s very painful and I am still very raw from it,” says Badger. But when you have this much grief, you can do something with it or fall into the grief and be shattered by it,” he says. “I decided to do something with it.”

That is what a “triumphant survivor” looks like, says Alan Pederson, executive director, national office, The Compassionate Friends (TCF) – the largest organization for bereaved families in the world. Founded in England in 1969, TCF was established in the United States in 1972, with not-for-profit incorporation in 1978, under which provision the organization’s more than 650 local Chapters also operate. TCF also operates as separate entities in 30 countries around the world.

“There are a small portion of people out there who eventually come through their grief as what we call “triumphant survivors,” explains Pederson. “They literally take a tragedy so horrible, such as this one, and they take the skills God gave them or what they feel their child would have loved and they will accomplish incredible things. And this is what’s happening here. Triumphant survivors are rare, and he [Badger] is rare and then to do it at the level that their doing this is just amazing.”

One might easily see all the things that the LSG Fund is accomplishing as silver linings in their tragic story, but Badger and Ballin’s grief is still so acute and raw, it’s difficult for them to describe it that way. And Abby refers to the good in their journey as something stemming from an ongoing process; “silvering.”

LilySarahGrace = Love

“I would say the silvering is seeing Lily, Sarah and Grace bringing joy back into classrooms and giving other children that gift of digging deeper into their creative minds,” says Ballin, who with Badger, primarily attributes LSG’s success to the outpouring of love of friends, family, the community and between each other.

“The power of love is, well, powerful,” says Ballin. “I don’t know how I’ve gotten here, how I am even able to get out of bed most mornings; there is a lot of denial, but mostly there is a love and commitment and the overall underlining mantra of what would the girls want me to do? And if I ask that question whenever I am lost it usually leads me to the right place. LilySarahGrace for me is all about love, my love for the girls, my love for Matt, and that love spreads to all these teachers and children that need to feel supported in school.”

Badger says his greatest silvering “yet to come” may be that someday, he could become another parent’s silver lining in their own tragedies. “LilySarahGrace is a silver lining of the tragedy, however, I personally think this has changed my perspective in life and I will continue to look for other ways that I can help and create meaning from this tragedy. But right now, it’s LilySarahGrace.”

Pederson, who eventually found his work at TCF following the loss of his own daughter in a car accident, August 2011, says there are many silver linings ahead for Badger and Ballin; they just can’t see them yet. “Our kid’s left us the silver linings — the gift of their love placed them ahead of us but it’s our job to find them,” he says. “But he’ll look back and realize that that work they’ve done was one of the main contributors to the healing that will eventually come. There will be little measures of healing that will come and come and then one day, he’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, am I glad I did this.’”

AIIBL to Move Forward

Healing, Pederson says, begins with helping and talking and sharing our losses, expressing the love – all things Badger and Ballin did since those first days after their loss. “Life does get better from that lowest point and it can get better and better for some people and I believe that’s where these folks are going.”

Badger and Ballin are now looking forward to seeing AIIBL professional development expand and continue to create partnerships with educators, foundations, and other funds to “super-size the movement.”  In the meantime, just as parents let go of their maturing children, Badger is now shifting from his original LSG role from working on the grassroots level to focusing on funding as chairman.

But the idea that children, like Badger’s own Lily, are now overcoming learning challenges in her memory and her sisters’—that thousands more will have a promising future—is sustaining Badger in his loss and grieving process. And just like proud parents talking about their grown children, Badger talks about AIIBL with energy and hope for it’s future. He makes it clear his heart is still deeply invested in what is happening in the classrooms.

“I am super happy about it and I love all the people that are involved with it,” says Badger. “All the teachers we work with are so like-minded – wonderful, dedicated, lovely people. They really work very hard every day. The love for children may explain why people give their time, energy and resources to LSG. I adore kids, and why would anyone want anything but the best for them?”

 “What we learn with pleasure, we never forget.” –Alfred Merceir

 

The Silver Lining: If We Could Only See It

When my Mom and I started planning the new site for The Silver Lining News, we decided to start a tradition that every staff member should include their own silver lining story, beginning with ourselves. But we quickly realized how much easier it is to identify the silver lining in other people’s stories than it is to identify it in our own stories.

So many random, little tender mercies grace our lives every day, but how long do we remember them? It may have been someone that gave up a cab or parking spot and consequently, you were able to make your critical meeting, or an officer that gave you a break when you accelerated to the doctor’s office with a feverish kid.

Silver linings, we think, come in many forms: favors, flukes and just being darn lucky sometimes.  And that’s why, when looking inward, it may not be so easy for you to recognize a silver lining, much less know how to tell the story. Mrs. S. Hall, a book reviewer, observed this too in a review of the novel Marian; or, a Young Maid’s Fortunes,published in The Dublin Magazine, Volume 1, 1840. “As Katty Macane has it, ‘there’s a silver lining to every cloud that sails about the heavens if we could only see it.’”

An SLN how-to:

At SLN, we’ve developed our own simple formula to help you identify the silver lining stories in your own life:

  • Give it time: 
    If you can’t see your silver lining in a situation yet, you are probably still in the middle of the event. Give it time for things to evolve and change before you try to look for your silver lining. Your best silver linings are most identifiable from the occasions that have past.
  •  Keep a daily diary:
    This is not blogging or journaling. A diary is shorter than journaling and is more appointment and event oriented – it’s a list of what happened during the day. It will jog the peripheral things that happened around your daily tasks.
  • Take a past-life assessment:
    What happened in your home, school, sport, job, career pursuits, and relationships; what are the significant things in these areas that were game changers?
  • What did you learn from the experience? What was the take away?
  • Identify those people who were there: what did they bring to the game or event?
  • What gratitude did you develop for the experience?

Maria Niles, contributing editor at BlogHer.com, and Hollye Jacobs, speaker, nurse, social worker, child development specialist, and author, also says that developing gratitude is the turn key to identifying a silver lining, especially in difficulties when silver linings are harder to see. Here’s their take, and a couple of others, about grasping your silver lining story:

Live Life as a Thank You

13 Ways to Find the Silver Lining in Just About Anything

Keep Calm and Find the Silver Lining in Life

15 Choices that Lead to Finding the Silver Lining in Life

  • Don’t look at only the happy endings:
    The general meaning of the proverb “Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining,” according to The Phrase Finder, is that every bad situation has some good aspect to it. But at SLN, We understand reality means that sometimes there isn’t a happy ending or even something that is necessarily good.

Rather a silver lining is anything redemptive which elevates something to a level above what it would be otherwise. Silver linings can grow, they can diminish, but at the very least, they are a sigh of relief that holds value and potential. Grief experts say sometimes seeing that takes a significant amount of time — after the “clean-up” and healing phase following a loss.

One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from the medicine man, Ketut Liyer, in “Eat, Love, Pray.” He sees that Felipe has a broken heart from his divorce and says, “This okay. To have broken heart means you have tried for something.”  This is perspective, which we believe, in and of itself, is good and moves us forward.

When you find your silver linings, please share them with us. You may ask: “Who cares about hearing what my “sigh of relief” was? – something as insignificant as that?  Let me answer that with another question:
Who cares that famous fashion model Kendall Jenner’s dog is pooping all over Kris Kardashian’s house and it is extremely upsetting to her that her daughter Kendall, who owns the dog, is too busy to take care of it?

Well, apparently quite a few people were interested in this episode of ““Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and other episodes. The series attracted 2.3 million viewers in 2013, according to USA Today. Please. If the Kardashians’ story about doggy diarrhea can hold an audience…well, then! We think that’s because it just comes down to the everyday human experience and somehow, we don’t feel so alone in it when we see that even affluent celebrities deal with the same poop in their lives that we do.

Your silver lining story might just be the light bulb to someone out there who is saying: “If I could only see it.”

-Linda T. Kennedy

From Three to Thousands

Father Answers Cruel Blow with Educational Mission  

By Linda T. Kennedy 

Editor’s note:

The Stamford Connecticut house fire that took the lives of Matthew Badger’s children Lily, age 9, and twin sisters Sarah and Grace, age 7, happened Christmas morning 2011. The Silver Lining News online relaunch was still just a dinner-table concept then.  With the rest of the world, we watched that Christmas Day news with shock, disbelief and profound sadness. And then we said, “Watch: something amazing is going to result from this. And we should try to make it our first story.”

Dear Readers, we watched.
Now, here is that “something amazing.”

In a three-part series posted each day following our launch, read about how profound loss and the memory and love of three little girls is changing the face of education in schools countrywide.

As Matthew Badger puts words to losing his three young daughters in a house fire nearly three years ago, one can hear the unmistakable hollow echo attached to them – even as he pauses, you can hear it. It sends one’s mind into a mental scramble for any words to offer that can fill the empty space, but every word falls like a coin hitting the bottom of a deep well and only amplifies the emptiness there. And the desolation in Badger’s voice tells you that he is keenly aware of it.

“With my loss I was left with very little purpose. Being a father to the girls was the center foundation of my life and gave me joy, unconditional love and tremendous focus. With the sudden removal I lost all meaning to my life,” Badger reflects. “You hear people say nothing is worse than losing your children, but it’s more than that, it’s really quite isolating.”

Standing on this island of horrific loss with Badger and the girl’s families is Abby Ballin, Badger’s girlfriend. Lily, Sarah and Grace had recently bonded with Abby as part of their family, says Badger, and things couldn’t have been better for them. Ballin, he says, developed a deep love for the girls and in her own grief, pined for answers.

Breaking the Sound of Silence

In the first hours and days following that unthinkable event, it was the conversations with family and friends that held them up, recalls Badger. “We talked a lot after it happened,” he says. “It was all of the love and talk about our girls that helped us survive. We talked about Lily, Sarah and Grace and our love for them, their love for us; we talked about their talents and challenges.”

Ballin’s grief worked as creative energy when talk turned into collaboration. “I knew we had to do something [to honor them],” says Ballin. “I didn’t know what that something was, and neither did Matt. I would throw out suggestions, a park, a scholarship, a statue, a foundation, etc. I guess it was survival mode kicking in, not knowing what to do, but knowing we couldn’t just do nothing at all.”

Certainly, for all the energy and love Badger channeled towards his daughters “nothing” was definitely not an option. He knew just three things: he wanted to help other children, he wanted it to be in the classroom and he wanted his energies to benefit impoverished children who are less fortunate than his daughters were.

When he reflected on the girls and their education, he realized how important the arts were to them – Lily, a dancer and poet; Sarah, an expressive, social force; and Grace, a painter. And he recalled one teacher in particular, Amie Schindel, who taught Grace in Kindergarten, and decided that the “something” would include bringing “Amie” to every child in the country.

Where “The Silvering” Begins

“After weeks of indescribable sorrow, the dark cloud of grief cleared for a brief moment, enough time for Matt to land on what he knew we needed to do for the girls – for us.” The couple would start the LilySarahGrace (LSG) Fund, a non-profit organization based in New York, NY, to grant art supplies to teachers throughout the country working in impoverished public schools.

LSG would not only celebrate Lily, Sarah and Grace’s lives, but help maintain the kind of learning in schools that they thrived on. It would be a vehicle to supplement educator’s budgets and nurturing other children like his own. “Witnessing him in that moment was like something from another world, maybe it is my poor memory or my vivid imagination, but it was like a light was shining on him as he stood in our kitchen and in that moment, with all my heart, I believed that he had found the answer,” recalls Ballin. “Coming from a background in the arts myself this too was very important to me.”

At the start of 2012, substantial federal budget cuts were looming to affect programs and teacher’s jobs in arts and special education, so the timing was right for an organization like LSG. Knowing many schools lacked art funding before additional budget cuts, Badger saw it as a pending tragedy for children, especially since he believes his daughters enjoyed school primarily because of arts-based education opportunities.

“Art in the schools is usually funded by parent/teacher associations, and in some schools, families do not have the income to contribute towards it,” Badger explains. “So when you go to a school in areas that have wealth, and it’s filled with art, that’s because the parents are paying for it. But in the outlining areas of New York City, for instance, it’s a different situation. There’s no funding coming in for supplying the arts – and [consequently] all the [art] teachers have been let go.”

And educational budget cuts in general, have always been a sore spot with parents and educators, including during the Great Recession. So you could essentially say that in this instance, Badger and Ballin set out to be two parent figures representing many throughout the country with LSG.

No Holds Barred

Badger and Ballin left their day jobs (as television director and film stylist, respectively) and within the first few months of the project, dedicated all of their time and resources towards the developing the organization. After defining LSG’s mission, they launched a media campaign to raise awareness of the project. Badger visited Good Morning America, The View and The Katie Couric Show and even though his grief was still very fresh, unbearable, he shared how he would channel his loss into helping other children.

“Ultimately, Matthew Badger’s healing will be when he walks into a classroom that has been funded by this monument that we’ve created for my children,” he told Good Morning America. “And if we are able to do that then Lily, Sarah and Grace have done it – it’s beautiful, it’s absolutely beautiful.”

Badger saw that start to materialize quickly. Within just weeks after the television appearances, he and Ballin pulled their creative connections together and lite up Broadway to raise the first funds for the organization. LSG hosted Whoopi Goldberg, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Juliane Moore, Eric Bogosian, Sir Ken Robinson, and 60 local children who performed dance and music. Every teacher that taught Lily, Sarah and Grace were on stage in the 42nd St., sold-out theater to greet 500 guests and launch LSG’s mission in an evening of celebration.

The first school supplies were delivered to classrooms within a few months following the kick-off fundraiser, and Badger and Ballin left for a coast-to-coast bus tour to see LSG in action in the classrooms. “Abby and I traveled the country visiting Chicago, Louisville, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Arizona and California,” recalls Badger. “In each classroom, we filmed the projects LSG funded.”

Badger transferred his experience from directing television commercials to interviewing the teachers. He produced “The Language of Art” and launched it with the LSG website, where donors could also learn about Lily, Sarah and Grace.

“That First year, Abby and I moved on by completely throwing ourselves into this fund,” Badger says. “I worked on it on an obsessive level and it got us through those first months.” The bus tour, and the year, ended with the memory of three – Lily, Sarah and Grace – working in the interest of thousands.

And LSG’s light in the coming year would grow even brighter, beyond Badger’s and Ballin’s initial goals for it. It would take on an entirely new life of its own infused with the expertise and leadership of a group of teachers who would redefine LSG as an innovator for tomorrow’s education models.

Read this continuing series tomorrow:
Lily Sarah Grace Fund
Making Art the Heart of Learning

And

One for the Money
Lily’s Dog Raises Funds for LSG

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Taking it outside the lines, literally.

Hello folks, and welcome to the SLN Editors’ blog, a place where SLN Editors can share their soliloquies — thoughts and reflections about, well, the myriad of things journalists think about. Some call it blogging, but here, we’ll call it “soliloquizing.” If other journalists are like me, they love to think about life in stories. 

And here’s the most important story that we want to share today: Pipi’s Story

This is my first blog post on a topic that wasn’t planned – I did not plan on diverting from launching this publication according to our plan. But if there’s one essential component to a silver lining, it’s that usually, a silver lining never results from something that went according to plan.    

We made a decision this week to the launch The Silver Lining News, now, today, while it’s still under construction. And we would say “pardon the dust” but there isn’t even enough dust to pardon, yet. You will notice, our sections still lack content. And there’s a good reason for that. Our values are superseding our best laid “strategy” and “plans” – you know, all the formal grown-up business stuff.

That’s because we (the handful of staff that we are right now) deeply value that “done is better than perfect” sometimes. And “perfect” for us wouldn’t have been “perfect” if we launched without the LSG Fund series, posted in On Our Watch.  This bittersweet story really encapsulates all that we’re doing this for – our purpose, our mission, our beliefs and hopes with this publication.

We did not want to hold off longer and miss the timely opportunity to shed light on one small dog’s very special effort to impact the world of education for the better. Yes, you read it right – there’s a dog out there, Pippi Badger, a 6-pound maltipoo, who has been working tirelessly the past month. If you didn’t click Pipi’s story above, please go now to: “You Can’t Memorize This.”

You could essentially say that by launching now, we are truly coloring outside the lines ourselves. But in the spirit of a child setting a popsicle-stick boat out to sail, we are launching with abandonment and joy. We’re just “doing it” — putting it down here and now, the best we can, with what we have.

Like a kid who only has so much time before the bell rings to finish what he can, we’re just pleased to turn this in today and say, “Look! we did this much!” Yes, we don’t have social media yet. Yes, there are many things missing – things we’ll notice weeks from now that we would have, should have, could have done. And yes, we are intentionally doing this anyway.

We have the sources in our first stories to thank for the inspiration to “just do it.” Here’s what’s great about people living large, beyond their scope of know-how; it gives others the guts to try it, too. But when you talk to people who have ignited a change in education with no educational background, like the LSG family. Or an executive, such as Alan Pederson, executive director of The Compassionate Friends, you “get it.”

Pederson is running the largest grief organization in the world and working with the top grief experts in the world, including the head of psychiatry at Columbia University. Yet he accomplished all of this without having a college degree, himself. “We write together and speak together – how could have that happened?” Pederson rhetorically asks. “How could have that possibly happened with a guy who only has a year of college from Colorado, that he could be speaking at Columbia University to all their future grief counselors and therapists? Because I just backed it on my love for Ashley.” It’s passion of purpose for Pederson, who got involved with the organization when he lost his daughter in a car accident 13 years ago.

And we have a purpose at SLN  that we are very passionate about too. We believe that despite the volumes of information available to news consumers nowadays, there’s still some things missing — primarily, silver linings.

“Go-get-it–ness” is contagious. And if you land in a belly flop, the silver lining is that you were air borne, at least for a minute. This is not to say there is not a time and place to learn, strategize, plan and execute well-learned skills. It’s to say that learning is something that you do along the way, work in progress. Like children, we (SLN) are a work in progress.

So, it’s actually a fitting way for us lead out with our own mission (the go-get-it part, not the belly flop part), to model our launch in the spirit of the best kind of “start-ups” out there: children. If you think about it, kids are humanity’s most important “start-ups.” They’re just starting up in life and what we give them now – our time, skills, experience, opportunities, is what we, as their predecessors will benefit from later. I have a question; how many 80+-year-old patients are being treated by physicians who are “older and wiser” than they are? (That’s what I thought.)

The values, skills, creativity and innovation we, as an aging baby-boomer society will rely on now and in the future, will so critically depend on the education we place in our kid’s hands today. And the great thing about kids is they are so naturally inquisitive, intuitive, creative and courageous, that given a few good tools, their potential is boundless. Today, though, it starts with Pipi. Please help her out if you haven’t already.

You go, Pippi!

-Linda T. Kennedy
Launch Editor

P.S. Mom, you are the biggest kid at heart that I know. Congratulations, you are finally launched!

The Silver Lining Room

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(L-R) Dorothy Denis, RN – Patient Services Manager, CPIS; Marianne Hatfield, MSN, RN, CENP – Director of Nursing & Patient Services, YNHCH; Cynthia Sparer; The Honorable Patrick Kennedy – Former United States Representative, Rhode Island; Co-Founder, One Mind for Research and SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana); and Founder, Kennedy Forum; Andres Martin; Karen Lamy, CTRS – Therapeutic Program Manager; Richard D’Aquila, President and Chief Operating Officer, Yale-New Haven Hospital; Nancy Brown, CPIS Friend and supporter; Robert Brown, CPIS Friend and supporter

Post COMING SOON!

Event Pictured: The Silver Lining Room ribbon cutting 
June 24, 2014
Yale-New Haven Hospital
New Haven, Connecticut 

Mom’s Chicken Soup

Colleen Sperry Smith’s Chicken Soup has brought comfort to her family for generations.

4 min. read

By Candace Little

Most foods that have stood the test of time have a story behind them, and even a spirit about them. Take, for instance, a dish you may have heard of called chicken noodle soup. It’s not just a bird with veggies in a pot of water, but a voice of reason and balance from the past. At least that’s what I feel when I eat it.

I see my grandma’s hands, pulling fresh vegetables from the ground, my great-grandma’s kitchen patterned with stock pots, my great-grandfather taking off his hat, the farm family at a table enjoying a sustaining meal of chicken noodle soup. Its salty simplicity screams of a quieter, less-complex time, when people ate for survival and lived for each other.


While I romanticize about a simple soup, my grandma, Colleen Sperry Smith, sees chicken noodle soup at its face value. When I ask her why she thinks it’s still eaten today, I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m crazy for asking such a dumb question. But she’s a good sport. “I think it’s because it’s easy to get. The ingredients are more common,” she says. “I’m sure there are other reasons–it has a good depth of taste for people who are sick.”


This response is unsurprising, since my grandma grew up on a farm during The Great Depression–when food, work, and life was far from romanticized. She did, however, play with dolls in the pigpen. She also tried to keep mice in her underwear drawer for pets. She raised a lamb into a ram that knocked her down the stairs. She became friends with strangers who needed a place to stay for the night. And every day, she worked to put food on her family’s table, picking peas as a very young child, learning to cook pot roast at age ten, and canning–lots of canning.


Looking back on it, grandma says, “I don’t know what people who lived in the cities ate. Anything we ate, we had to grow it on the farm. We worked hard for the food we had, and if we didn’t work for it, we didn’t have it.” Of course, that was when the farming community was much larger than it is today; in the 1930s almost a quarter of the workforce were employed in agriculture, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. But today, less than 1 percent are working on the farm.

It was also common, my grandma recalls, for her mother (my great-grandma, Ioal Croff Sperry) to serve the large meal of the day in the middle of the day; a traditional farm dinner at 2 PM, packed with enough energy for my great-grandfather, Frank, and any hired-hands to finish out the rest of their work day. It was usually meat and potatoes with gravy, fresh baked bread, milk from their cows (Geraldine and Dot), veggies and fruits in season, and often, a big pot of soup. This was an easy way to stretch a piece of meat, or use up scraps from another meal, my grandma says.

While not all soups from The Great Depression have stood the test of time–for example, mutton stew, which was also served up on grandma’s table–chicken noodle soup, or simply “Mom’s Chicken Soup” as she calls it, is unarguably very popular still.  Perhaps it’s because of its versatility, enabling eating establishments from Marie Calendar’s to Chick-Fil-A to serve up their own versions (to say nothing of Campbell’s or Progresso’s take on it all).  Or maybe, just maybe, it’s  it’s simply because everyone’s mother makes it for them when they’re sick.

Mom’s Chicken Soup (Circa the 1930s)

By Colleen Sperry Smith

3-5 lb. chicken

1-3 tablespoons chicken flavoring

1 yellow onion, diced

3 potatoes, cubed

1 carrot, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

2 cups homemade egg noodles, dried (or Kluski Noodles)

Place chicken in 3 to 4 quart container. Cover with water and cook 1 hour on stove (or cover and microwave 7 minutes per pound). Take chicken out of water to cool. Skim off fat. Add flavoring and salt and pepper to stock. Add prepared vegetables. Cook 15 minutes on stove (or 10 minutes on full power in microwave). Cut chicken off bones. Leave in good sized pieces. Add to vegetable mixture. Heat to boiling. Makes approximately 10 cups of soup and freezes well.

*Please note: the microwave instructions in parentheses are Smith’s adaptations from her mother’s original recipe.

SLN_Chicken Soup_CL_Smith2

Colleen Sperry and her sister Donna on the farm in Central Utah.

Maggie, and Other Happy Accidents

IMG_8874 Maggie

RubySnap Maggie cookies

How a Self-Taught Baker Booms in the Business

7 min. read 

By Candace Little

Tami Steggell, proprietor of RubySnap Bakery in Salt Lake City, Utah, says she is constantly experiencing “happy accidents”: cookies with the tastiest flavor combinations resulting from experimenting with ingredients that are foreign to the typical cookie. Have you ever met up with dried mangos and chocolate in a citrus cookie dough, or a cinnamon cookie with a mint milk chocolate center? You will at RubySnap – under the names “Viviana” and “Margo,” respectively.

And there’s others. Like Zoey, a blueberry lemon chia with a fresh-squeezed lemon glaze, and Autumn, made of roasted butternut squash, with a spiced mascarpone, topped with a hazelnut and dusted with cinnamon sugar. It’s the “cookie of the month” for October. Upon creation, Steggell christens all her cookies with popular female names from the 1940s and 1950s to match their individual and unique “cookie personalities.”

It’s a tradition since Steggell opened her doors in 2008 to sell original, gourmet fresh cookies and frozen-to-bake-at-home cookie dough balls. The cookies are widely known now, not only by Salt Lake fans but to cookie emulators in England as well. And just walking into Steggell’s store is a recipe for unregretted indulgence, especially since you won’t find every recipe in-house at RubySnap every day.

While Steggell has invented 56 cookie recipes, she currently offers only 41 of them to the public. Some have either been discontinued for a time, or are on hold for the future. But each one has been thought up and created by Steggell–some of which she says have been easier than others to perfect.

Apple Cookie Turned Strawberry Peach

Steggell had never tasted an apple crumb pie cookie, but it sure sounded delicious, so she set out to make one. “The trick with apple is to get the flavor to pop and stand out without too much manipulation or enhancements,” Steggell says. “Every attempt to make a lovely apple cookie failed because all the flavor would evaporate off in the baking process, leaving a fairly boring average cookie in the wake. So after several attempts I gave up on apple and moved on to strawberries.”  

Steggell is a self-taught baker, and so having something not turn out the first time is something she’s used to – in fact, she says these “happy accidents” are stepping stones for something greater to take place. Her next version of the cookie used dried strawberries, with a dough rolled in graham cracker crumbs–a stretch for Steggell, who typically does not add packaged goods to her cookies.

“After several attempts, I introduced this dried strawberry cookie to the public in 2009 despite my hesitation,” Steggell says. “The public liked it, but I was sorely embarrassed! I likened my creation unto a packaged product. Not my market! Not my idea of amazing! So I pulled it. Then it occurred to me, September peach season! There is no law saying I have to use apples just because it is also apple season.”

Steggell went at it again, this time using both fresh strawberries and fresh peaches in the dough. “When the fresh fruit bakes, it percolates and creates an airy and light cake-like cookie that is fresh and clean and collapses in your mouth,” Steggell says. Next, she says, was to imagine what the frosting would be like to give it eye appeal. She found her inspiration while enjoying the local fresh Slide Ridge Honey and chevre from Tony Caputo’s in Salt Lake City.

“The next evolution was to make a honey goat cheese frosting for the top and celebrate it all by topping off the cookie with a fresh strawberry,” Steggell says. “[This was] such a happy accident, because we now boast to the public a uniquely different and completely original cookie named “Maggie”: a fresh strawberry peach with a honey goat cheese frosting.”

Steggell didn’t stop with Maggie. She revisited her original idea about a year later and created “Dani”–a delicious apple crumb pie cookie. She kept the apple’s flavor by keeping it on the outside of the dough. Dani is a vanilla bean snickerdoodle covered with freshly picked apples and a traditional crumb pie topping. Two cookies for the price of one? Yes, please.

The Architectural Design of Cookies

Steggell’s happy accidents don’t just happen during the baking processes. She was actually a practicing architectural designer before she came into the bakery biz as a profession. So, you could say even the bakery itself came about by chance.   

That’s because architecture sparked her creative juices in the kitchen as well, but she kept her cookie and chocolate confectionery recipes a secret in hopes of opening her own bakery one day. But it was just a dream, until it became a necessity. “My industry was undergoing some rough times after 9-11 and frankly I was working much too hard for far too little income,” Steggell says. “So I jumped ship and became a stay at home mom. Alas! A modern family struggles without two incomes, so I set a sail to find a solution and then I said to myself, ‘Self! You have a lot of good cookie ideas. People claim they like them. Take a chance!’ So I did. I took a conservative chance and it worked very nicely.”

It worked nicely from the beginning and is a roaring success today. Steggell and her team sells approximately 30,000 dozen cookies per year out of her retail store (that represents 140,000 pounds of dough). And her ovens are baking more than 200 dozen cookies per day.

A Bigger Game, a Better Name

Another happy accident along RubySnap’s path included a name change – something many companies do, but not always because they are forced to do it by  big corporations. But Pillsbury filed a case against the bakery, then called “My Dough Girl,” for copyright infringement, claiming her shop’s name was too close to their trademarked “Pillsbury Dough Boy” character. Steggell refers to this as “the trademark accident,” and says it is the best happy accident yet.

“This one was a gift,” she says in retrospect. “Someone wants to take your name away!? It is shocking at first.  But in the end it can be the best back-handed compliment that you earn. It means to someone you are a threat, that someone doesn’t want to lose business to you. [It’s] part of the beauty of free market enterprise. Competition either forces us to be better, or point fingers. Let us all choose to be better.”

And that’s precisely what Steggell did. She even opened up her new naming process to the public, encouraging them to suggest ideas. Doing this, she wanted to draw on her original connection to attaching pin-up girl names to her cookies. That originated from the concept her cookies are “natural beauties,” curvy and made with all natural ingredients, but with imperfections too—similar to the pin-up girls of the 1940s and 1950s.

Pin-up girls were popular in the 1940s and 1050s, during the time female servicewomen were called “fly girls.” That’s how she came up with her first business name; dough girl was a spinoff of  “fly girl,” because Stegell’s cookies were “dough girls.”

“We wanted to combine a female name and a phrase from the 1940s to create our company name that sounded like a call name of a female flyer from WWII.  For example, LillyTango,” explains Steggell. She came up with about 350 names.  She finally decided on RubySnap. “Ruby signified our corporate color and also became the new face and voice of our logo,” Steggell says.

“Ruby the color and name, now turned our logo into a mascot with a voice to talk to the fans on social media. Snap was reflective of our personality and ‘sass-o-frass,’ as we call it. We want to present ourselves as happy, spunky, fun, and playful. The real intent was to stay away from food references, [but] unbeknownst to our clueless subconscious, the public immediately thought we were making a play off the gingersnap,” Steggell says with a laugh. “Oh well, we are in love with our name and glad we settled upon it. We feel it encapsulates our branding to the fullest.”

Steggell says she learned a lot from her renaming experience. “My original name wasn’t that unique, it did not set me apart as distinctively different or inventive,” Steggell says. “The gift of controversy pushed me to set myself, company, and branding apart from the norm and rise above average. It’s like exercise, it’s not always enjoyable, but it’s really good for you!”

That’s something to keep in mind when you meet the rest of the happy, spunky, fun, and playful cookie “personalities” at RubySnap. And when the shop assistants cut you a full-quarter slice of any cookie sample you wish, just for polite introductions.

Candace Little is a business magazine editor, turned mom//food editor. She lives, bakes and eats in Salt Lake City with her husband and two kids. 

RubySnap Dani cookies

RubySnap Dani cookies

Silver Lining Tours

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Round tornado storm over Elk Horn, Iowa on June 29, 2014

 

Couple lives for Mother Nature’s unpredictable disposition

6 min. read

By SLN staff

THE SERVICE:

You could say that Roger and Caryn Hill have their heads in the clouds, literally. But, it’s not that they are unaware of what is going on in their . It’s quite the contrary. As proprietors of Silver Lining Tours, the world’s second-largest, storm-chasing tour company, they have dedicated their lives to getting storm chasing down to a science.

They know exactly where to take people to witness Mother Nature’s fury – at times, tornados. In 2013, the husband and wife team bought the 17-year-old booming business, and found that being business owners is akin to chasing storms: unpredictable, fast moving and enormously fulfilling.

“Learning the business was baptism by fire. We became fast learners on things like QuickBooks, along with trying to maintain the company’s customer service standards,” explains Caryn, who not only helps manage the business end of the company, but goes “out in the field” with tour groups, as well.

Between April and August every year, the Hills lead up to 12 tours, spanning from south Texas to the Canadian Prairies and Colorado to Indiana. Tours usually comprise two or three vans, a driver, Roger or Caryn and six tourists per van. And six times a year, avid photographers join Silver Lining photography tours. “We just talk photography the whole time,” says Caryn. “Then we provide resources the group can use to sell their prints and some have sold photographs for $10,000 a print.” But, Caryn says, “We are storm chasers first.”

WHY STORM CHASING?

It’s their pure passion for witnessing storm structures. Roger, has chased storms for 29 years. So far, he’s chased 750 tornados, “and he’s so relentless about it that he’ll chase down a rain drop if he can,” says Caryn.

Caryn is becoming a veteran too, with 11 years’ experience. Roger was a tour guide when Caryn joined him in storm chasing. But Caryn identified future opportunities for growth. She believed he could eventually become a partner and buy the business one day, and with her marketing background, make storm chasing more than just a hobby.

THE NAME:
“The name ‘Silver Lining Tours’ stems from the idea that we look for clouds and since every cloud has a silver lining, that comes with it too,” says Caryn, explaining that the name fits because there are challenges and benefits to storm chasing. Even when storms don’t materialize, clients still leave having had a great time. “That has branded the business as being reliable, even when Mother Nature isn’t.”

CORE VALUES:

  • Traditional “old-fashioned” customer service
    • Responding within two hours to client inquiries.
    • Meeting the personal needs of each customer.

“A large part of our business is answering different questions and addressing people’s concerns — a lot of time goes into that,” Caryn says. “There are fears associated with storm chasing – every apprehension is a little different and we really learn about each one. For instance, we had a client who was concerned about her safety on tour – not with storms but with other people on the tour. That’s valid; you’re going out with a van full of people you don’t know into the back roads of rural America. But addressing that we have no more than three vans and every client rotates with different guides throughout the tour eased her concerns.”

  • Customer safety
  • Tour guides with expertise in science and reading radar equipment.
    • All vans are equipped with radar and weather stations, letting clients watch the drivers – “weather geeks” says Caryn– monitor how strong the storms are and how they are acting. Also, the vans are equipped with van-to-van radio communications.
  • Tours stay back 4 or 5 miles from the storm, and clients must stay in the van.
    • “We know how close we can get and how far we must stay back,” says Caryn. “There are people who are in storm chasing to see the destruction and chaos and they ruin the reputation of storm chasing for others. So we don’t allow people who are a safety hazard or have unrealistic expectations join the tours.”

TEAM TRAITS:
The Hills hold a waiting list for those that want to drive for Silver Lining Tours and only hire those that embrace their company values. They are usually fire fighters or EMTs who can drive safely away from the storms, know how to not panic, and can assure storm “virgins” that they will be okay. They are also willing to be first responders in a crisis. “They have to be pretty good improvisers to be in this business,” says Caryn.

STORM CHASING SILVER LININGS:

  • Because storms are unpredictable, there is the possibility of not witnessing a storm.

“Mother nature won’t be scheduled,” Caryn says.

Silver Lining: There are many historical and natural wonders available where the Hills take tour groups. Time for other site seeing is always scheduled into every tour.

  • Storms are destructive.

Staying safe means observing some storms from a distance.

Silver Lining: “People don’t often realize that staying back from the storm is usually better,” says Caryn. “That’s because if you stay back, you will see the whole structure, which is absolutely jaw dropping. People generally see things they just can’t believe are real.”

  • Tours sometimes cross storms’ destruction paths.

“Sometimes storms cross cities and towns and when they do, we are there,” Caryn explains.

Silver Lining:  Clients have the option to be first responders, offering preliminary search and rescue efforts before other rescue teams arrive. Tour participants learn about how to help in an hour-long orientation before tours start. “It’s usually a great comfort to victims when they’re willing to sit and provide comfort until help arrives.”

  • Storm chasing requires long hours on the road.

“It’s a lot of work to see storms — but once people get there, it’s usually unanimous that the long hours on the road were worth it,” says Caryn.

Silver Lining: “When you are out in the wind, and you see just this ginormous structure, and smell how the air smells – there’s no other smell like it – it’s so fresh and unique.”

ROI:

  • 60-70% of clients are repeat customers
  • Year-Over-Year annual growth
    “We’ve grown every year, even during the recession.
  • Surpass client recruitment goals

THE SILVER LINING TOUR LEGACY:

  • Roger’s love for weather. He’s been interested in severe storms since he was a child.
  • Passing on storm knowledge to every Silver Lining Tour guest.
    “Seeing guests light up when they “get it” is so satisfying,” says Roger.
  • If there is a storm to be found, Silver Lining Tours does whatever it takes to find it.

TAKE IT FROM THEM:

Advice to other entrepreneurs/business owners:

  • Through experience you learn what to do to keep your clients happy.
  • Look for your opportunities to learn the business to advance in the company and become part of the succession plan.
  • It comes right down to thinking about your customers and not yourself.
  • If you’re working a business as a couple:
    • Remember nobody can spend 24/7 together.
    • Find balance give each other down time.
    • Being engrossed in a business as owners requires you to step aside to rejuvenate and return with enthusiasm and fresh ideas.

 

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