Lily Sarah Grace Fund First Annual Gala

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By Linda T. Kennedy

If one could give an emotional analogy for silvering, an early 19th century manufacturing process that turned glass into mirrors, it could be the First Annual LilySarahGrace (LSG) Fund Gala Sat., Oct. 25, 2014, Jack Studios, New York, N.Y.

In this case, the “silvering” was 300 guests joining Matthew Badger, LSG founder, and LSG Co-Founder Abby Ballin, as they released “You Can’t Memorize This,” a collection of drawings from  visual and performing artists. The book includes 38 original celebrity drawings and is part of LSG’s first large fund-raising campaign, “Color Outside the Lines.”  

The campaign and book is turning tragedy into triumph for Badger and Ballin after losing Badger’s daughters, Lily, Sarah and Grace in a Stamford, Connecticut house fire Dec. 25, 2011. The gala reflected 3 years of purpose-driven hard work by Badger, Ballin, LSG Fund teachers and supporters. Childhood zeal, compassionate love, creativity and passion for the arts glistened from the studio’s walls and illustrated LSG’s mission to provide underprivileged students with arts-infused, inquiry-based education. The celebration followed a successful Kickstarter campaign (see “One for the Money”) ending the day before the gala.

“The ‘Color Outside the Lines’ gala was a huge success, thanks to the amazing people that came out to support the cause and who lent a hand throughout the planning process,” says Robert Cambria, executive director, LilySarahGrace Fund. “The space was a gorgeous, pristine, all-white space. And in addition to the drawings, murals spread across the walls which were composite images of Lily, Sarah and Grace.”

LSG also enlarged three drawings from actors Johnny Knoxville and Naomi Watts, and singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright and hung them on the gallery walls for people to color on. “We had a thousand Sharpie markers in a bucket and people could just come in and grab colors and just draw, color or write notes. Some people just wrote really sweet notes like ‘keep up this work,’” says Cambria, who described the event as a “massive undertaking” for Ballin, and gala co-director and author Periel Aschenbrand.

“They were really the creative masterminds behind the event, and they spent almost every waking moment of the past 3 months putting it together, along with a host committee of more than 15 people, the celebrity artists who donated works and gala sponsors Epoch Films, Sharpie, Belle Fleur, and Helen Ficalora. They all worked to make sure everything went smoothly and was taken care of in time.”

Honoring LSG Heroes

LSG also planned the event to honor actress and talk show host Whoopi Goldberg, Donorschoose.org Founder Charles Best and teacher Hans Tullman, an LSG AIIBL (Arts-infused, Inquiry-based Learning) grant recipient from Bakersfield, Calif.

“We wanted to honor Whoopi and Charles because of the impact that they have had on LSG since day one,” explains Cambria. “Matt met Whoopi when he was on ‘The View,’ when LSG first started, and she also hosted our very first fundraiser, LilySarahGrace on Broadway.” Besides winning numerous awards and receiving acclaim for her work in film, television and theater, Goldberg is known for her humanitarian efforts on behalf of children and other causes and charities.

Like Badger, Goldberg is dyslexic. Badger’s daughters were also dyslexic and he could identify commonalities in them, himself and other creatives like Goldberg. It fueled his LSG mission and Goldberg hooked onto it. “Goldberg has been a huge support to us, and we just wanted to acknowledge that and thank her,” says Cambria.

Goldberg, filming on location in Spain, sent a video speech for the gala. “I just want to thank everybody for giving me this wonderful award, the Lily Sarah Grace ‘Color Outside the Lines’ award,” she said. “It’s so amazing to be here, and be a dyslexic, and find that there are lots of people like me and that you are celebrating folks who do ‘Color Outside the Lines.’ So I just want to say thank you so much and send you all my best. I wish I could be with you.”

Best, a former history teacher, committed his own organization, Donorschoose.org to work with LSG from its conception. In 2000, Best started DonorsChoose.org to help teachers petition for donations for their classrooms and students. Now half of all public schools in the U.S. have had at least one teacher post a project to DonorsChoose.org. “We would not have reached the number of students we did in our first year if wasn’t for Charles and Donorschoose,” says Cambria.

Tullman was honored at the event for best representing the purposes and practices of the new LSG AIIBL grant last year. “That grant is for $1,500, and Hans’ project blew us away. It was the first semester that we had put the grants out with a complete list of criteria meant to highlight and promote AIIBL,” explained Cambria. “With the grant, his students made films about saving the environment, and through each step they showed so much understanding and such a deep level of engagement, which is really the most important thing that a student can have when it comes to their learning.”

A Lot of Sweet, A Bit of Sorrow

The gala guests, including LSG Ed Council members and celebrities, applauded the honorees with Badger and Ballin, and the evening was positive, light and fun like any party celebrating children should be, says Cambria. But it was also infused with tender moments that held guests to remembering why they were there.

Actress Natasha Lyonne spoke to the importance of Badger and Ballin’s work, explaining her life wouldn’t have played out the same if it weren’t for the arts. And Badger and Ballin also acknowledged their efforts would not be possible without the generosity and dedication from the sponsors, volunteers and friends. “It was an emotional part of the evening,” says Cambria. “As well as when Wainwright ended with an absolutely beautiful and moving rendition of Hallelujah.”

Ballin says that while they are grateful the new campaign launched successfully, it’s difficult for her to consider events like Saturday night’s gala as a silver lining in their lives after losing Lily, Sarah and Grace. “It’s hard for me to say there is a silvering in all of this, although it is a beautiful phrase and has great meaning. I do find that I use the term bittersweet often when talking about LSG, the work that we all are doing there is so meaningful and truly sings to my soul, but I know that the majority of us wouldn’t be doing this work or even know each other if the girls were still here…”

But if they were still here, it would have been their kind of party says the girl’s father, Badger. “The event was awesome and we had a really great time. With 300 people, it was a giant love party and the girls would have adored it.”

 

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