Spreading Their Wings

Malibu Mayor Lou La Monte (left) and Ellen Shane (right), together with Malibu locals, family and friends release 1,000 native California butterflies at Malibu Bluffs Park on Sunday afternoon in honor of Emily Rose Shane. 

One thousand live native California butterflies were released at Malibu Bluffs Park on Nov. 13, at a special ceremony that celebrated the life of a remarkable child and raised funds to support the legacy that continues to keep her name alive.

In 2010, 13-year-old Malibu resident Emily Rose Shane was struck and killed by a suicidal driver on Pacific Coast Highway. Her family created the Emily Shane Foundation in her memory, promoting the kindness and empathy that were among Emily’s special qualities through a passing-it-forward campaign that encourages good deeds, and the Successful Educational Achievement Program, or SEA, which helps middle school students achieve their potential.

The 1,000 butterflies event drew a large crowd. Children made paper butterflies and decorated them with glitter, or simply played in the park, while adults investigated auction items that included concert, museum, and theme park tickets, golf and art classes, Hello Kitty-themed gift baskets and tickets to an LA Rams game.

Event participants were encouraged to sponsor the butterflies. Each butterfly at the ceremony “celebrates mentors and role models who make a difference in our lives,” the event invitation explained. The proceeds help fund the foundation’s work. 

A large display rapidly filled with handwritten messages sharing the thoughts of the sponsors. “For my grandma who raised me as a young boy and taught me all my morals,” one said. “Love you and miss you. Thank you for helping others,” said another. 

One display featured photos of SEA Program students and told their stories. Another table featured information on the butterflies. Event volunteer and local environmental activist Wendi Dunn was on hand to answer questions about the live butterflies released that day. She also distributed free milkweed plants and explained how event participants can help local monarch butterflies thrive by planting milkweed in their gardens and eliminating butterfly-harming pesticides.

The butterflies arrived in special ventilated boxes, cooled with blue ice to keep the occupants hibernating until they were ready to be released.

“Butterflies represent transformation,” Ellen Shane, the mother of Emily and the founder of the Emily Shane Foundation, told the crowd. “Through the SEA Program, struggling students are transformed into successful students.” 

Ellen Shane described how the program offers individualized intensive mentoring to struggling and at-risk middle school students and those with special learning needs. The program is free to participants. SEA students are only required to perform a good deed for every mentoring session they receive, in the spirit of “Passing It Forward,” the Foundation’s motto. Each $10 butterfly sponsorship helps fund one hour of mentoring, Ellen Shane said.

“The program currently serves 90 students, with more on a waiting list,” she added. “We hope this event will allow us to fund additional resources.”

“We’ve worked hard to help middle school students to succeed,” her husband, Michel Shane, said.

Malibu Mayor Lou La Monte was there to officiate at the butterfly release. 

“Michel and Ellen turned a horrible tragedy into a miracle,” La Monte told the audience.

La Monte shared his memories of Emily with The Malibu Times. He explained that he met the Shane family at Bluffs Park when their daughters were little. 

“They played baseball together,” he said. “I remember Emily running in her little pink uniform.

“It takes a lot of courage to transform grief,” he told The Times.

Grief was the last thing on the mind of young event participants. Cries of delight erupted as the butterflies, warmed by the sun, were shaken into the air.

The butterflies hovered over the crowd for a moment, drifting down like brightly colored autumn leaves before dispersing on the wind. 

“I’m so happy,” Ellen Shane told The Times. “The turnout and the weather are amazing. It was so important to us that this event be open to all, and that we have this opportunity to raise awareness.” 

More information on the Emily Shane Foundation and SEA Program is available at emilyshane.org.