It was while dining out with her then two-year-old daughter that Sheila Michail Morovati had an idea. “I would take my daughter out for lunch or dinner to her favorite restaurant here in Los Angeles. I was always surprised when the hostess gave her a brand new four pack of crayons. The crayons would barely be used until the meal arrived and at the end of the meal the virtually unused crayons would be thrown away with the remnants of our meal. I looked around the restaurant and saw that the same thing was happening at other tables with kid diners.”
She did some research: at the time, over four billion crayons were produced per year and 150 million of those crayons were thrown away by restaurant chains in America. The numbers were startling and they inspired Morovati to launch a ground-breaking initiative called Crayon Collection, a non-profit organisation that pairs restaurants and other establishments with schools supporting children in need, so that all children can have access to a very basic tool for creativity — a crayon.
“It seemed to be the perfect storm for me to build Crayon Collection because at the same time that I noticed this wastefulness of perfectly good art supplies, there was a lot of news coverage around budget cuts in education and how teachers in the United States were forced to pay an average of $900 per year out-of-pocket on classroom supplies. To make matters worse, the realization that climate change was real and was a danger we were facing unless we made some big changes. The environment needed our attention in a big way. I knew that kids could learn a huge lesson about environmentalism, giving back, and wastefulness via the Crayon Collection. These kids are our future so why not use an object that is near and dear to their hearts to make change,” she says.
Celebrities such as Owen Wilson, Christina Ricci and Jessica Capshaw have all got involved in Crayon Collection. Morovati was recently moved by a story that a little boy called Grayson had decided to forgo birthday gifts in lieu of doing a crayon collection. He collected thousands of crayons and then later donated them to a school near his home in Rancho Cucamonga. For the next school year, the school now has enough crayons.
We spoke to Morovati about her inspiring initiative, motherhood and how she juggles it all.
For more information, go to www.crayoncollection.org
How can we all be more aware/how can we help this cause?
This is something that I call “finding eco-normal”. What I mean by this is that we all take part in actions each day that we don’t really think about. Yet, many of these actions impact the environment negatively. The Crayon Collection has a mission to shine light on these “normal” behaviors, such as throwing away good crayons, and hoping that people are inspired to change that behavior by making small shifts. That could be by taking the crayons home with them and having a little crayon collection basket to accumulate more crayons or to ask your local cafes and restaurants to save the like new crayons for a school nearby (Crayon Collection can help pair restaurants with a school in need of supplies).
How has Iranian culture influenced your life?
I think part of my awareness for the wasteful actions I see around me comes from the fact that I am from Iran. Although I was raised in the United States, I still find that I have been raised with the Iranian culture, which deals with a lot of issues around scarcity. It is not common to receive crayons at any restaurant in Iran, let alone throw them away.
What have been some highlights since you launched Crayon Collection?
It seems like there is a force of energy behind Crayon Collection, because there are always such amazing things happening. Some of the highlights for us have been working with huge national restaurant chains and pairing hundreds of locations with Head Start Centers (these are public preschools serving our nations most vulnerable youth). We work hard to raise awareness so we are extremely proud to have been the charity partner of Penguin Random House for the children’s books The Day the Crayons Came Home, which was the sequel to The Day the Crayons Quit. We also loved having the support of Owen Wilson, Christina Ricci and Jessica Capshaw for a our animated PSA that aired at the end of Magnolia Pictures children’s film called The Hero of Color City. It is this PSA that has inspired preschool aged kids all over the world to participate in Crayon Collection.
What is the best advice you’ve been given about motherhood?
That your child will never walk down the aisle with a pacifier, in diapers, sucking his thumb… Each time I think about something my child is doing today that is worrisome, I always think about that line. It reminds me how my children are going to grow out of so many of the things that cause my sleepless nights.
Can you tell us about your childhood?
Due to the Iranian Revolution in 1979 we immigrated to many places such as London, Italy, and France before residing in the US permanently. My family had to start over and because of this we moved around a lot even after coming the states. I switched 14 schools by the time I went to UCLA for university. I believe that although that was a challenge for me growing up, it has shaped the person I am today.
Have you always been ambitious?
My passion has always been sociology. The first class I took amazed me so I fell in love. I graduated and used my sociology degree in marketing and advertising. Then I went into my family business, which was our line of menswear and I created a new department for the company thanks to the close proximity to Hollywood. I initiated the studio services division, which was to contact any and all film and television productions and to introduce our line to them. It was a lot of fun because I would visit sets all over Hollywood and meet the most interesting people. I believe the combination of my career path has made Crayon Collection as successful as it is.
What are your top time management tips – how do you juggle it all?
I think I would say that I am a “doer” I just put my head down and get through the list. I definitely have a priority list and I try to complete whatever I initiate. I don’t like loose ends at all. I work during my kids school hours and I use my phone to answer emails and calls while I shuttle the kids to their after school activities. I also try to engage the kids with my work as well. After all, this is a children’s charity to help both the recipient kids and the donor kids so I want my children to understand the meaning of this lesson as well.
What is your definition of success?
To me success is doing what you love and being able to maintain it.
What did your own mother teach you about life and motherhood?
My mom showed me that being in the present and appreciating every detail around you is the key to happiness. I try hard to pass this to my kids. She also taught me the gift of empathy. Many many years ago when I was nine-years-old we were on a family trip to Acapluco, Mexico. We stayed in a lovely resort but one night my parents wanted us to dine in town with the locals. At dinner, the hostess gave me a handful of trinkets to play with during dinner. These were small things like a mini basket, a little figurine… nothing outrageous. As we were headed back to our hotel I was given a balloon on our way out of the restaurant. This balloon attracted many children who were on the street. Within a minute there were about 15 squealing children jumping up and down with joy just seeing my balloon and the trinkets in my hand. Of course, as a nine-year-old I was not interested in giving any of this away but my mom whispered in my ear to hand them over because I would have about 10 more minutes of joy with these, but the children would enjoy them for weeks to come. It is this memory that comes to mind each time I work on collecting crayons for kids in need.
What do you love most about raising children in LA?
I think LA offers us everything we could want. We have access to beautiful beaches, mountains, the desert is less than two hours away, and a lot of culture. The art scene in Los Angeles has really developed into something great and is now a true destination for anyone interested in the arts. We can take our children to shows, to museums, concerts, nature hikes – pretty much anything we want to do is here at our fingertips. I think we can expose our kids to many things, you just have to look for it.