Elizabeth Sill was preparing on April 1 to leave for the funeral of her husband, Greg, when she went to use the computer.
The task: to create a GoFundMe fundraiser for student scholarships in her memory.
“I was like, I can’t let her name say nothing anymore,” she remembers Wednesday of her husband, her high school sweetheart and a popular social studies teacher who died March 26 of a pulmonary embolism. at the age of 48. She added, stopping to cry: “I said to my daughters, ‘We have to do something, even if it’s a small scholarship.… We’ll see what we get.'”
She figured it might make $ 1,000, the maximum. But as the family mourned – Elizabeth’s three daughters and the Lake Grove couple, then aged 16, 20 and 21 – she received alerts on her phone that the donations continued to exceed that $ 5,000 goal. then $ 10,000, then $ 15,000.
It ended up grossing nearly $ 65,000, and within three months Sill’s family had awarded a scholarship to four students based on the essay submissions – three at Smithtown West, the high school where Greg spent most of his life. his decades of teaching career, and a fourth at Sachem North, where his three daughters are, or will be, alumni.
Now the family has started a foundation, with the ambition to expand beyond these districts and eventually across Long Island, reaching students of all types, not just those heading to four-year colleges, but also technical schools or other training. Perhaps by organizing trips to El Salvador, where his widow traces his roots and a country he embraced.
Fundraisers include a golf tournament next year and the sale of hats, bracelets, shirts, stickers and other clothing.
His daughters, Emily, now 22, and Natalie, 20, and Isabella, now 17, created the foundation’s website, marketing materials, and brainstormed ideas for what it was necessary to write, channeling the wisdom, aphorisms and values of their father to inspire the design. The greens and blues, for the land and its waters, were inspired by their father’s love for travel and history, which he transposed into his pedagogy.
“He would actually inspire his students to experience the story of this epic story that it was, and feel that it is more than just a textbook and a few boring words, but makes it a place to explore and hearing and being a part of stories and taking all of those historical character roles in different kinds of classroom activities or scavenger hunts around school or online puzzles, challenges, ”Emily said.
The foundation’s website urges visitors to “be the coffee bean” inspired by Jon Gordon and Damon West’s 2009 bestselling book “The Coffee Bean: A Simple Lesson to Create Positive Change”.
“Life is often difficult. It can be tough, stressful and like a pot of boiling water. The environments we find ourselves in can change, weaken or harden us, and test who we really are. the weakening carrot in the pot or like the hardening egg. Or, we can be like the coffee bean and discover the power within us to transform our environment, “says the book’s summary.
One of the scholarship recipients was Smithtown West student Caitlin Camilleri, now 18 and a freshman at Marist College studying data science and analytics. She had Sill for her second year of world history. She remembered typing the entry essay on a laptop from her family’s kitchen – her mom nearby – and burst into tears when she found out she had won.
“It was in her class that they spoke to me,” she said Wednesday from a college dorm, her voice broken with emotion. “He was a teacher who didn’t just teach. He went the extra mile, was always ready to help the students. He wanted to make learning fun. Some teachers just did the bare minimum, taught you the subject directly. the textbook. During the first week of school he took us around the high school campus, through the fields and tried to teach the lesson as we went, ”she said.
She said the news of her death was particularly difficult for the school, coming in a difficult year as students struggled during the isolation period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Of course, I felt a lot worse for his family and everything they were probably going through,” said Camilleri, who is investing the money in school fees.
Another scholarship recipient is Madison Friscia, a freshman studying health administration at the University of Scranton.
“It was the teacher who took me out of my shell and made me join clubs, make friends and get involved,” she said in an interview from a library at campus.
In life, the Sill family have also been inspired by their indomitable spirit, said Emily Sill, 22, who is completing her final semester at George Washington University studying marketing and international business. She said the foundation would perpetuate this philosophy.
“My dad, honestly, was the most positive person I know,” she said. “He would always teach us that, you know, whatever life has in store for you… you can go through it.”