"I was just a regular guy before," said Matthew Badger Thursday evening. "Just a regular guy who loved his daughters."
Badger visited Norwalk as the guest of honor and main speaker at a fundraising event for the LilySarahGrace Fund put together by Norwalk business The Silk Touch and hosted at the Manice Lockwood Mansion by the St. Philips Artist Guild (SPAG).
Badger's three young daughters were lost in a tragic Christmas Day fire in Stamford. It's a tragedy only extended by the legal turmoil surrounding the case as the estranged Matthew and Madonna Badger each bring suit against the city, each seeking their own answers.
The night had a focus on the Norwalk community. That is who the fundraiser would benefit and those were the schools that would have projects funded, but Badger would later talk about Stamford and his continued respect and thanks for the community there.
On Thursday evening, Badger sought to let his girls continue to "do good" even after they've passed by raising funds to help schools.
"Two of my daughters—Lily, my oldest, and Gracie, a twin—had language deficiencies. Entering kindergarten, they had two completely different experiences," Badger explained. "Gracie was in love with class and skipping to school. Lily had a terrible fear, crying on the way to school. She had what I would call panic attacks."
Badger said he discovered the different methods with which each of the teachers approached helping their class learn led to the girls' unique experiences. While Lily was taught in a more traditional method, Grace's teacher allowed the children to learn through art. Badger said Grace was consistently recognized for her scholastic talents because she was a visual learner learning in the right type of environment. Lily developed self-esteem issues while Grace displayed an abundance of it, Badger said.
It was this difference that led to Badger founding the LilySarahGrace Fund. Money raised through the project is fed back into the school system. Donations and contributions are used to purchase products and materials teachers use with their classes on different art projects. Badger says the fund has helped in the range of 64,000 students across 48 states.
"I miss my girls. They were my life. I struggle every day," Badger said. "The fund was a way for me to continue to love my girls... The fund, for me, is an ego-less experience. It's not about me, it's about the girls. I get excited when I see the fund doing good, because they're still doing good."
Badger said the fund brings meaning to their deaths.
The idea for the event in Norwalk came from a small business owner looking to exhibit her work in a way she felt was giving back to the community. Danna Dielsi, owner of The Silk Touch at 5 Main St. in Norwalk, had been search for time to meet opportunity, and everything lined up for Art N' Bloom.
"I'd been looking for an opportunity to work with SPAG, and I was hoping we'd be able to host something in a fundraising capacity," said Dielsi, a Norwalk native. That all proceeds raised during the event would immediately be funneled back into Norwalk classrooms appealed to her. "It's very gratifying to have the money delegated to the Norwalk school system. To have the children right here in our city receive the greatest benefit, it's wonderful to be able to give back."
Executive Director of the Norwalk Parking Authority and Commissioner at the City of Norwalk Arts Commission Kathryn Hebert said the city couldn't be more thrilled to be involved with a project like Badger's to help raise funds for the city's children.
"Seeing so many groups come together, it's inspiring," Hebert said. "We're helping the Norwalk Public Schools System and we're bringing our community together. We live in a fragile work and these people are here to help Matthew Badger to face his tragedy in a very positive way. And helping to develop new ways to teach our kids is the future of this country, of this world."
Mayor Richard Moccia said he was astounded at the turnout and couldn't be prouder of his community to pull off something amazing on a tight schedule. Moccia said he'd never seen a shortage of help from the people of Norwalk.
"To put together an event like this, I don't say this as a mayor, I say this as a citizen: Norwalk is the most giving community in Connecticut and probably the nation," he said. "Helping to raise this money for students is amazing. And [Badger] is a man made of steel. I don't know if I could keep going on in his shoes, but knowing this good is in his children's names, it motivates him here tonight."
The event went smoothly, and Senator Bob Duff and Representative Gail Lavielle were among the guests present. With all the funds going to the Norwalk, Badger said he would be happy to bring his fund to help the city of Stamford, he just wasn't sure this particular political climate was when he should try to do some good there.
"I know Stamford has experienced a lot of trauma," Badger said. "I know many households were affected by this. Everybody in town had their Christmas stolen and everybody in town suffered from it. I know a lot of the people who worked that rescue went home and had trauma in their lives."
Badger recalled meeting the firemen who were first on the scene and finding they had visible burns from their efforts to save his daughters and the parents of his wife.
"Their trauma may still be going on for the men that went in there and had to find the bodies," he said, saying he thinks many citizens in Stamford might think the lawsuit he brings against the city is somehow a slap in the face to the men who ran into his burning home. "The lawsuit is a quest for truth, but it is important for me to relay how grateful I am for what the emergency teams tried to do. I am aware of the hardships the Stamford community had to go through and the sadness they faced."
He said he hoped someday he'd have the opportunity to show them.
"I'd be happy and honored to raise money for the schools of Stamford."