Stoneham LIUB Founders’ Triple A Strategy for Success: Awareness, Acceptance, & Action
Every April, the Town Common is decorated with blue lights. But, do you know the story behind the magic? We caught up with Jeanne Craigie to learn how she and Pam Gill started Stoneham’s Light it Up Blue and, in the process created Autism awareness, enhanced community acceptance, and positively touched many lives. Read her story below!
“LIUB was started in 2009 on a Sunday afternoon,” recalls Jeanne Craigie, “when I bumped into my former colleague Pam Gill, and her son, Riley. Pam and I share a passion for children with Autism and ‘special’ gifts and during this chance meeting it became clear to us that Stoneham was lacking in community support for such children and their families.” We thought, “Well, maybe we can do something about this!”
“Our early meetings took place at my kitchen table where we brainstormed how we could bolster community awareness of Autism. Our efforts and drive were centered on our shared belief that acceptance is born from awareness.” Jeanne and Pam started small and gained the blessing of the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee. “In the beginning we reached out to friends and neighbors and asked them to decorate their homes with a blue light,” remembers Jeanne. “We even spread the word by cable TV!”
Their idea took off fast and by April 2011 they organized the first LIUB Day on the Common to raise dollars for special education programs in the community. “Our first year we strung over 15,000 blue lights,” recalls Jeanne. “Of course, the trees were smaller then and so it looked amazing! By 2012, we formally became a non-profit 501c3 and branded the name Stoneham LIUB.”
With non-profit status, some funds, and a brand, Jeanne and Pam moved to start a weekly open gym, art, music, and yoga program. “This was the heart of Stoneham LIUB,” Jeanne tells us “here we were able to see the real impact we were making. We could see the smiles on children’s faces and that was everything—it made all of our efforts worthwhile!” Since then, Stoneham LIUB has ballooned, incorporating new programs for teens and young children and serving even more families. The programs run during the school year and are inclusive of siblings. There are also whole family activities, such as movie night or field trips.
“Beyond blue lights, we have sold LIUB apparel such as shirts and hats,” says Jeanne. “We found that flooding the town with our gear was an effective way to raise both awareness and funds!” Importantly, every dollar raised by Stoneham LIUB goes to assisting children and their families through programs, staffing, and family grants. “Pam and I have always believed that this the way it should be,” says Jeanne.
Last year Jeanne stepped down from her position as President of LIUB and had the opportunity to reflect on the journey from kitchen table discussions with Pam to high impact non-profit. “We are proud of being the first group in Stoneham to raise funds for Special Education. Through this, we have brought programs to our special kids that have helped them become more successful.” Stoneham LIUB has also donated over ten thousand dollars to Stoneham Public Schools to support additional programs and introduced the idea of using the Town Common as a gathering space to promote a cause. “Along the way, we felt grateful to be supported by local businesses and community members.”
Jeanne offered the following advice to community members who would like to start something new in Stoneham, “my advice is to follow your heart ... no idea is wrong! If you love your community and have a passion, bring it on! Make every connection you can. It helps to have partners who share your passion and complement your skills. For us, Pam organized the key programs, I did the Town logistics, and we together attended all the classes. We both brought our strengths to form a united cohesive group with a lot of help from our friends, family and neighbors! We both philosophically believed with AWARENESS YOU GAIN ACCEPTANCE as you can see 10 years later going strong!”
Wow!! Just, wow! And Stoneham LIUB continues its journey infused with the same forces of passion, focus, and expertise. Thank you, Jeanne, Pam, and Stoneham LIUB; we are grateful for your work and so inspired by you!
Socks for Seniors
In the first Installment of Stoneham Inspirations, residents Kathy Hudson and Raymie Parker share their experience of starting something new in Stoneham and offer encouraging words to others who would like to do the same.
Read their Profile below!
In 2014, residents Kathy Hudson and Raymie Parker brought the nationwide Socks for Seniors, a non-profit community service project, to Stoneham! While most tend to think of the holiday season as a fun and celebratory time, for some it can be a lonely and depressing time of year. “Our Seniors are a particularly vulnerable group as some face the holiday season unable to travel to friends and family or with the isolation of being a widow or widower, says Maureen Canova, Director of Stoneham’s Council on Aging. Socks for Seniors is a low cost, high impact way to let our Seniors know that the community is thinking of them and that we care.”
Kathy and Raymie confess that the first year was a gamble, “we honestly had no idea how this would go—we just went with it and received about 100 pairs of socks. The numbers of donations have increased every year, with 2016 hitting the record high of over 300 pairs of donated socks! We hope to receive even more donations this year.” Kathy and Raymie shared this advice to community members who want to start something new in Stoneham: “anyone who thinks it’s too hard, think again. The rewards are far greater than the time you devote. Thinking of others and actually doing something nice (easy or hard) for your fellow neighbors, is what makes a great community, and we think it’s worth every minute!”
Indeed it is! Well said Kathy and Raymie—keep those great ideas coming!