Paul and Vicki Silverman
by Mike Grayeb
Harry Chapin meant so much to Paul and Vicki Silverman that they used his music and his message to help them raise their two children.
The Silvermans saw Harry perform 10 times in the Kansas City, Missouri area, and they waited to meet him after every show. His down-to-earth performance style, his uncanny ability to connect with an audience, and his passion for helping those in need really made an impact on them. "He wanted to stop world hunger," said Vicki Silverman. "That is going at life with gusto!"
As their children grew, the Silvermans considered "Tangled Up Puppet" to be among the songs that told the stories of their lives. But after a series of events that changed their lives forever, the Silvermans found that "Flowers Are Red" is perhaps the most poignant Chapin song of all.
From the time their daughter Emily was just a toddler, she found pure joy in dancing. She started taking dance lessons at age two, and just a few days after her fourth birthday, she performed in her very first dance recital.
"After we got home from the recital, I was getting Emily ready for bed," Vicki remembered. "Just as I was removing her costume, she stopped me and said: 'Can I look at myself in the mirror just one more time? All my life I have wanted to be a dancer! Now because of Miss Betty, I am!'"
For the next 15 years, Emily took dance lessons several times a week. But she also wanted to share her talents with others, so from the time she was in junior high school, Emily helped to teach dancing to young children every Saturday.
Dancing was her life, and she was determined to make it her livelihood too. So she diligently saved her money and developed a plan to open her own dance studio.
Emily, who suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, wasn't interested in working with the most-promising or best-looking dancers. Instead, she wanted her studio to give other young people who faced physical or developmental challenges the same joy and creative freedom that she appreciated. "She believed dance could be for everyone, whether it was klutzy people or even disabled people who were in wheelchairs and could only move a single finger," explained Paul. "Emily was always the square peg who didn't fit into the round hole," added Vicki. "As she matured, she actually took pride in that fact. She could see the beauty in diversity. She gained so much from her experiences through dance that she wished the same for others."
Tragically, in March 2003, Emily's passion for sharing dance with others was interrupted. While driving to college on a Missouri highway, Emily lost control of her car as she swerved to miss a coyote that had wandered onto the road. In the resulting crash, she suffered a brain injury and died five days later at age 19. But right up until her untimely passing, Emily was living her dream.
"Less than a month before she was killed, Emily had the opportunity to choreograph a number in a college production of Big River," said Vicki. "When she called me on the phone to tell me the news, she had the same excitement in her voice as she did 15 years earlier."
When Emily died, the Silvermans decided to establish a fund in her memory, but they weren't immediately sure of just how to put it to use. "We knew we wanted our friends and family to spend money on other things besides flowers," said Vicki. "We knew it had to be used for something to do with dance."
Shortly thereafter, The Emily A. Silverman Memorial Fund, a non-profit organization that helps young dance students in need, was born. The fund, more affectionately known as "Em's Spotlight," has already drawn support from a broad community of caring individuals and companies. All of them are committed to help keep Emily's dream alive.
Since the program's inception, the Silverman family and other dedicated volunteers sought out and collected more than 400 pairs of dance shoes, costumes, cash donations, and in-kind services and support. "The most obvious impact is the glitter and sequins that are imbedded in every inch of our carpet after making 60 plus costumes," said Vicki.
Earlier this summer, eight local students from junior high school, high school and college, volunteered their time to teach an eight-week dance class to a group of 72 first-, second- and third-grade students in the local church. "They worked with kids in a lower social class than them and in a portion of town they most likely had never been in before," said Vicki. "They saw that these boys and girls were very similar to them when they were their age. I feel that had a huge impact on them."
Then, in early August, Em's Spotlight shined on the youngsters as they donned their tap dance shoes and home-made costumes, and then performed in their own recital at Saint Louis Church in Kansas City. "The looks on their faces the day of the recital were priceless," said Vicki. "When it was all over, we told them they could keep their dance shoes as long as they promised to return them when they outgrew them."
Vicki said she and Paul and their son Cary have been overwhelmed with the support from the community and the success of the program to date. "I feel like every day God is giving us a pat on the back and saying, 'That's right, you're going in the right direction, go ahead, you're doing well,'" she said. "We are beginning to feel what must have been a little of the joy Emily felt when she could share her gift with her students."
The Silvermans hope to expand Em's Spotlight to include working with dance studios to start a tuition assistance program, and possibly working with smaller studios to secure halls for recitals. "We want to leave things open-ended so that if we ever see a need, we might be able to help," she added.
Vicki said her daughter and Harry seemed to know early on their own roles in life. "Maybe not consciously, but I think they may have been elated that they had it figured out and that is where the joy of giving comes from," she said.
"She really didn't care about what others thought. She was Emily! I think because of this she could go forward full force and accept all people for who they are. She wanted to help anyone who wanted to dance to be all they wanted to be no matter their level of talent or body shape," Vicki said.
"She knew all the colors of the rainbow. She not only saw every one, but she cherished every one," Vicki added. "Because of that, I don't think she missed much. Just think of how limiting our lives would be if we saw only flowers as red, and green leaves, instead of the so many colors in the rainbow and the colors of the morning sun."
You can help keep Emily's dream alive. To donate shoes or costumes, call (816)363-3204. To make a monetary tax deductible contribution, mail your check to:
Visit www.emilyfoundation.org for more information.
Watch for the Next Issue of Circle! on December 7