NORWALK, Conn. – Music performed by young children filtered through a Norwalk mansion Thursday as the father of three young girls who died in a Stamford Christmas Day fire talked about how he handles his grief.
"I struggle every day with the meaning of it," Mathew Badger said, as the benefit for the fund he established in his daughters' names got under way. "This fund that I have created is the way I can continue to love my kids. I had to manifest some kind of meaning to the death of my children. It makes me feel like I'm loving my girls again."
Money raised by The LilySarahGraceFund in Norwalk will go to Norwalk elementary schools, financing the kind of creative teaching techniques his daughter Gracie benefited from, Badger said.
Standing on a stairway above a crowd of about 200 dignitaries, community activists and interested citizens, Badger described the challenges his oldest daughter, Lily, faced when she went to school, before he discovered she was a visual learner who did not do well with textbooks.
Lily often called herself stupid, he said, even after she transferred to a school better suited to her.
By contrast, Grace, one of younger twins, skipped to school because she began her elementary years with a creative curriculum, Badger said. "We want children to experience Gracie's education," he said, explaining the goal of the fund.
Badger credited floral designer Dana DeElsi of The Silk Touch for bringing his fund to Norwalk and the event, featuring artwork as well as music from children at Norwalk's Talent Education Suzuki School.
She said teachers can easily get a grant from the fund. "They need to implement their creative ideas, into math, science, subjects that kids have a hard time learning, to make it more fun to learn, that's what it's all about," DeElsi said.
Badger said money raised – both at the event and through donations made online – will be "sitting in a bank account until the school teachers of the underfunded elementary schools of Norwalk use it all up with their creative ideas."
Angela Vicenzi, a retired Norwalk school nurse, liked the sound of that. "Your heart goes out to them all," she said of the Badger family. "So it's nice that he chose something that you can express your condolences in a positive way for the kids. It's going into Norwalk which is really nice, it's not going into some vast national pot."
Norwalk could be the prototype for the fund and its work, Badger said. "I think that the town of Norwalk has an opportunity to make an example and set a tone for the possible future of how programs can come back out of the ashes of this economic crisis."