One For the Money
Lily's dog, Pipi, is featured in this article about the SarahLilyGrace Foundation fund-raising efforts.
Lily’s Dog Raises Funds for LilySarahGrace Foundation
What we learn with pleasure, we never forget." –Alfred Mercier
Nearly three years since Ballin and Badger started the LSG Fund to memorialize their girls Lily, Sarah, and Grace, they are finally in a place where they can look back and see where they've been and are going with the project. Currently, LSG has helped 160,000 public school students, granting more than a million dollars in supplies to teachers nationwide.
LSG touches classrooms with resources and AIIBL, a new learning model and professional development program. But one can't say that all of this exceeds Ballin's and Badger'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 a 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, giving 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 kids' 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 and met 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 because Badger has a knack for identifying talent. So it's no wonder that eventually, Badger and Ballin realized another critical figure could represent and drive LSG forward in its 4th year: Pipi Badger, Lily's 6-pound Maltipoo puppy who joined the family in August 2011, for Lily's 9th birthday.
6 Pounds of Mega-Purpose
Pipi made her first appearance as a spokesperson for LSG on Sept. 24, 2014, in a Kickstarter video, "You Can't Memorize This," LSG's first extensive fund-raising campaign.
From Pipi's perspective, the video illustrates the role Lily, Sarah, and Grace played in her life. Pipi 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 their drawings. And supporters 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 drawings.
The book also includes a drawing by jeweler Helen Ficalora, who designed the LilySarahGrace Eye Charm from one of Sarah's 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 on Oct. 25, 2014, at Jack Studios 601 West 26th Street, New York City. Rufus Wainwright will perform during the gala.
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.
Badger says he didn't take time to grieve after losing his girls; he immediately immersed himself in LSG and 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 worldwide. 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 they're 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's 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 the silver lining he might become to other parents in their 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 after losing his daughter in a car accident in August 2011, says there are many silver linings ahead for Badger and Ballin; they can't see them yet. "Our kids 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
Pederson says healing begins with helping, talking, sharing our losses, and expressing 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 looking forward to seeing AIIBL professional development expand and continue creating 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 any parent talking about their grown children, Badger talks about AIIBL with energy and pride, making 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?"
Lily's dog, Pipi, photo courtesy of Matthew Badger