The father of Lily, Sarah and Grace Badger, the three girls who died last year in a Christmas Day fire in their Connecticut home, has spoken publicly for the first time of his grief, his daughters and his glimmers of something positive coming from their deaths by drawing attention to a new fund he has launched in their memory.
"Out of the darkness came this [fund]," Matthew Badger, 46, told ABC News.
The nation awoke to the news Dec. 25 that the three young girls had been killed along with their grandparents in their Stamford home. Investigators say hot fireplace embers -- cleaned out of the fireplace because the girls worried about Santa, and discarded in the back of the house -- sparked the blaze.
"There probably has not been a worse Christmas Day in the city of Stamford," Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia said.
The girls' mother, advertising executive Madonna Badger, and her boyfriend, Michael Borcina, the contractor on the house, were the only survivors. Madonna Badger is said still to be in deep isolated mourning.
Matthew Badger, the father of the three girls, has decided to turn the grief from his loss into something positive, and has launched the Lily Sarah Grace Fund, which will offer money to elementary school teachers who incorporate the use of art -- a passion his daughters shared -- into their teaching. He hopes to draw attention to what will become a living monument to his girls.
"The Lily Sarah Grace Fund is my love for my girls," he said. "The instinct of a father for me was that I needed to love my children … and that love I channeled into the creation of the Lily Sarah Grace Fund. I need to try and make them have made a mark on the planet, and not have just died in vain."
Dad in Mourning Recalls Christmas Fire Tragedy
Speaking publicly for the first time since their deaths, Badger recalled his last days with 9-year-old Lily and 7-year-old twins Sarah and Gracie, and discussed his feelings at the time of the tragedy.
"I was with them for an entire week in my apartment," Badger said, smiling when he thinks back. "It was dancing. We had our own Christmas tree and that photograph was when we had opened our presents they were all very happy."
Badger said he often studies a snapshot from that final day with Lily, Sarah and Gracie, a day meant to be just one of so many more. He said that after the fire, he struggled to understand why this could happen to his girls.
"It was very difficult to see … Why did this happen? I mean, it doesn't make any sense. And I'd just seen them the day before," Badger told ABC News. "The experience … of memories about their lives has been one of … tears. And every time I open up my computer and look at pictures of them, I am moved."
Good Morning America," Badger discussed how he has channeled his grief and memories of his girls into something tangible for others.In the interview with ABC's Claire Shipman for "
"It's really hard," he said. "People treat their grief in different ways. Either they head straight into the wind [or] some people hide behind a rock. …I had a very hard time making sense of what life was."
Through the fund, Badger has been able to channel his grief and refocus his life in a spiritual way he never anticipated.
"The monument in some ways is very spiritual. It's also [how] I found a place of tremendous healing for me. When I work on it, I'm surrounded by love of friends, who gather and talk about how we can make this charity grow," Badger said. "My journey … has been remarkable, and in some ways has refocused my life for, I would say, a greater purpose."
Badger said he was especially inspired by New York public school teacher Amie Schindel, who sent his daughter, Gracie, skipping to school each day. Schindel told ABC News of her fond memories of the girl.
"I remember having her like it was yesterday. She just kind of shined," Schindel said.
DonorsChoose.org, allows people to give money directly to schools.Badger enlisted the help of kindred spirit Charles Best, whose innovative program,
"Many of the teacher requests are about incorporating art into science, or into math, or into English, and really making art a part of everybody's education," Best says. "Someone who goes to the Lily Sarah Grace Fund website will not just see these incredible videos that Matt has created with his girls, and interviews with art teachers across America, they'll be able to support the request of a public school teacher in an elementary school who needs specific art resources to weave the arts into their teaching throughout an entire semester."
Badger believes that an arts-based grant to a teacher can infuse the classroom with a sense of energy that's contagious.
"If the teacher is rewarded by one of our grants, they're empowered, and they're excited," he said. "That enthusiasm for education is then put into that class. That enthusiasm takes over with the children, and the children start to feel like, 'This is a great class.'"
Best called DonorChoose.org's partnership with the Lily Sarah Grace Fund "one of the greatest honors" in his organization's 11-year history.
"I think what people should know is … if their hearts are moved by Matt's vision for building a monument to Lily, Sarah and Grace, they can donate with absolute confidence in the integrity and the quality of our execution together," he said.
Badger hopes that he is able to help others with the Lily Sarah Grace Fund, but also keep his daughters' memory alive.
"Ultimately, [my] healing will be when [I] walk into a classroom in the fall, and see one of those classes that is being funded by this monument that I've created for my children," he said. "And if we are able to do that, than Lily, Sarah and Grace have done it. They've done it. It's beautiful. It's absolutely beautiful.
"I am a very private person," Badger added. "I don't want to seek any celebrity out of this. I don't want to be the focus of this. I don't want any personal gain from this. I just want people to visit the LilySarahGraceFund.org, and learn about my girls."
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