For more than 20 years, Laurie Liming, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, was an educator in the Berkeley Heights school system, receiving accolades like “Teacher of the Year” and forming a community that felt like family. But seven years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, forever altering her life’s path. As a single mom of two boys, navigating life during cancer wasn’t easy—there were multiple surgeries, dark days when she wasn’t sure if she’d make it, and much pain forcing her to give up teaching full-time. But through it all, Laurie and her boys were taken care of by her friends and the community she came to know as family. Laurie was so touched by their generosity that she vowed if she survived, she would start a grassroots program to pay it forward and keep the kind gestures going for those in need. Today, The Silver Liming Foundation reaches the local community by making a difference to families through one kind gesture at a time. They’ve recently organized drives and donations to families who lost a parent to COVID, parents who lost an infant in childbirth, the homeless, and families dealing with a cancer diagnosis. We chatted with this Berkeley Heights mom to Thomas, 18, and Matthew, 17, to find out why a starfish is her business’ mascot, the mom who touched her heart, and the roadside shack at the end of route 80 with a beautiful view and the most amazing french fries.
Please share a little bit about your family and career background. I’m a single mom to my sons, Thomas, 18, and Matthew, 17. I grew up in Middlesex Borough, but we moved to Berkeley Heights 13 years ago for the excellent school system. I started teaching when I was 24 and taught both general and special education in the Berkeley Heights school system. I was very impressed by how the community, school board, and educators worked together to put the children first, and I wanted my sons to have the best education possible. To me, that meant Berkeley Heights.
What was the moment that made you decide to launch your foundation? In September 2015, I was diagnosed with Stage 3C metastatic breast cancer without having any signs or symptoms. During my two-year battle, the local community rallied around my sons and raised my children while I was too ill to do so myself. The boys received dinner multiple times a week, my friends drove them back and forth to school and took care of them during lacrosse and wrestling when I was unable to, and their teachers were compassionate—I knew someone was always keeping an eye on my boys. There were some dark days during the journey, and I wasn’t sure if I would make it; also, due to complications from one of my more than a dozen surgeries, I was forced to retire from teaching in 2018. The boys and I were so grateful for the kindness shown to us by the community that we vowed to pay the kindness forward if I lived. In October 2018, six weeks after my final breast surgery, we made good on that promise, and Silver Liming foundation became an official nonprofit. The name for the foundation came from two former students who sold bracelets in my honor. The bracelets were on silver bands and read, “We love you, Ms. Liming. Look for the Silver Liming.” Throughout my “teaching” years, I constantly reminded the kids to look for the silver lining in any difficult situation. I did that for years because I knew that hearing it, again and again, would cause it to imprint on their hearts.
The Silver Liming Foundation has an unusual mascot. Why the starfish? A poem resonated with me called the Starfish, which is about a man who sees a boy on the beach throwing a starfish back into the ocean to save it. The man points out there are hundreds of starfish on the beach, and the boy won’t be able to save them all. But the boy wisely answers as he throws the one back—I made a difference to that one. This poem reminds me that though we can’t help everyone, one kind gesture can make a huge difference to someone specifically, so our foundation lives the lessons of the starfish every single day. We aim to take care of the caregivers, be as charitable as possible, help local children in need, help out those who are sick or going through a difficult time, and be there for those who are struggling with an injury or battling a disease so that they don’t feel like they’re in it all alone.
How has your business changed over the years? It’s been a little over three years since the Silver Liming foundation launched, and though we started pretty small with just a few people, we’re still a grassroots foundation though we have well over 30 members that make everything happen. The most significant change for us was the official launch of the Silver Teens program in 2021, which was a natural evolution of kids showing up to help however they could. They wrap presents, do yard work, organize tech support for senior citizens, and do whatever they can to make a difference, one kind gesture at a time. They also come up with great ideas to create, promote and implement special events.
Please share a story of how your business has made a difference in someone’s life. A friend asked us if we could do something for her friend, Nanci Gamba, a Berkeley Heights mom in town who has MS and is now a quadriplegic. We were able to gift her with multiple Alexa devices for her home, which gave her a level of independence she didn’t think possible. And it’s made life a little easier on her husband, who is her primary caregiver. She can now change her own music and text and communicate with people. And Nanci isn’t just a recipient—she’s now an active member of the foundation, has made many new friends, and has become a part of our family. She’s paying it forward by helping others, too.
Please share the best and most challenging things about being an entrepreneur. The best thing is making a difference in the lives of people. We can’t take their pain, we can’t cure their cancer, and we can’t ease the hurt of losing a loved one. But we can make a difference one kind gesture at a time. The most challenging thing for me is realizing that I don’t always have to be at the wheel. None of this happens without the incredible team of people on board. They’re the ones that do all the heavy lifting and get the job done. They’re so committed that all I have to do is ask, and everyone is quick to step up and help–I send out a group email, and immediately it’s taken care of.
In terms of your business, how supportive is your family? I have a large supportive family, both biological and chosen. Both of my sons are founding members and have been incredible. They’ve done everything from cleaning branches off strangers’ roofs to baking for families in need to Tommy (away at school right now) working with his fraternity on fundraising for us. And my siblings and their families have delivered food to the hungry, shopped for children in need, and supported me in every way possible. My friends have also been incredible, stepping up and helping out whenever and however needed. Many of them are now board members, including our Vice President, Janine Bavoso, our Secretary, Julie Lloyd, and our Treasurer, DaLynn Feeley.
What do you enjoy doing in NJ with your family? Every autumn, we visit an apple farm for an extended family tradition. Riamede Farm, Alstede Farms, and Ort Farms are all favorites, and we always roll in with about 30 people to connect and appreciate this time of year. Also, there’s something for everyone to enjoy, from the cider donuts to the flowers to the apples. My nephews Aidan and Owen always compete to see who can find the biggest apple, and my nieces Ashley, Piper, and Hensley love the hayride. And from May through October, you’ll find us down the shore, particularly Point Pleasant, as often as possible. I love watching my boys fly stunt kites, and we all love the sound of the ocean, the sand on our toes, and seashell hunting.
Please share some of your favorite NJ businesses. Hot Dog Johnny’s in Buttzville is an old roadside shack hot dog joint with the best hot dogs and french fries in the world! The fries are so good that if you eat one, you can’t stop. They have a little garden area with an old-fashioned swing set, and the setting is so beautiful—it’s on a narrow piece of land on the Pequest River. I also love Peddler’s Village in Lahaska. They have so many events throughout the year. My extended family and I always attend the Scarecrow Festival, the Gingerbread Competition, and the Grand Illumination, where Santa throws the switch. Plus, it’s so quaint, and they have such spectacular shops–it’s a favorite way to support small businesses.
What is your best piece of advice for an NJMOMpreneur just starting? Enjoy the journey. There will be ups and downs, but when things get tough, remember to look for the silver lining.