NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- The father of three girls killed in a Christmas morning fire said Tuesday he's channeling his grief into a project that supports school arts programs in their memory.
Matthew Badger told The Associated Press that the Lily Sarah Grace Fund has helped him cope. Badger said when he's working on the fund, he feels happy and finds himself laughing, but when meetings related to the fund end, he finds himself crying.
"Every time I worked on it, my mood changed from grief into love," Badger said.
His daughters, 9-year-old Lily and 7-year-old twins Sarah and Grace, along with their grandparents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson, were killed in the fire at the girls' mother's house in Stamford, Conn. Lomer Johnson had worked as safety director for a Louisville, Ky., company and the couple lived in Southbury, Conn.
The girls' mother, Madonna Badger, and her friend, Michael Borcina, escaped. Authorities say the blaze began after Borcina, a contractor working on the house, discarded fireplace ashes in or near an entryway, close to the trash.
The fund was created several weeks after the tragedy.
"It was created out of a very dark place that I was in and out of a tremendous amount of grief that was overwhelming me," Badger said.
He said his daughters loved the arts. Lily always seemed to be in character and could do accents in many languages. "She was incredibly good at acting," Badger said.
Grace was always creating art. "She was totally content to spend an entire day in an art room," Badger said.
Sarah was known to paint.
The fund supports projects in underfunded elementary schools in which art is infused into the curriculum throughout the semester and across subjects. Math and dance, for instance, can be combined to spark more student interest, Badger said.
"When you do that the children become more enthusiastic about math," he said. "They're energized by the subject."
Badger, who consulted numerous educators, is partnering with donorschoose.org. Teachers post their projects on the nonprofit site and donors decide which efforts to fund.
"I desperately wanted my children to have meant something," Badger said. "The role of the father at this point is to create a mark that these children have left in this world and they have done something with their lives."
Badger said he spent the week before Christmas with his daughters in New York, visiting a museum, getting a Christmas tree and watching the girls dance.
After the fire, everything changed.
"My whole life doesn't make sense," Badger said.
But it's the project in memory of his daughters that enables him to get out of bed.
"I don't think I will ever recover but I think I will get to a place where I'll have acceptance and I will feel love for my children and when I think of them it will be with love, not with weeping or wailing or with sadness."
Learn how you can get involved with the Lily Sarah Grace Fund here.