Paper Clips & Butterflies: The Opportunity to Influence the Future

Paper Clips & Butterflies: The Opportunity to Influence the Future

A special story showing Paper Clips and The Butterfly Project coming full circle…

By Joe Fab, director of Paper Clips

Indulge me for a moment if you will, Dear Reader…

Recently I found myself going through a big box of notes from students at schools where I’ve shared my film Paper Clips and spoken to classes over the years. Here are a few samples:

“Dear Mr. Fab… your movie really inspired me not to judge anyone.” 

“…every time I see a paper clip, I will remember the Holocaust.” 

“…the movie shows how much people really do care for other religions.” 

“…one thing I learned is that I should start something because all of us can make a difference.”

“…you showed me that one person can begin a big project.” 

“…what I have learned from your visit is if you want to accomplish something, do it NOW.”


These are the kinds of things I heard from students at the De Portola Middle School in San Diego when I was invited to speak there some years ago. And this past March, The Butterfly Project’s Education Team (made up of Co-Founder Jan Landau, Sonia Fox-Ohlbaum, Arlene Keeyes, and Judi Gottschalk) introduced De Portola sixth graders to The Butterfly Project. As the students painted butterflies in memory of the children killed in the Holocaust, the Education Team was touched by the responses they heard:

“We went back in time and felt the pain that they felt.” 

“[The project] shows us how much destruction can come from hate.” 

“I can promise to stand up for what is right no matter the circumstances.”

And lest you think that these are no more than nice-sounding words spoken in the enthusiasm of the moment, let me put that concern to rest. When I work with students, my purpose is to have them identify things that matter to them and to get into action NOW, as indicated by some of the remarks above. Think of the positive impact that is lost when we adults treat our young people as apprentices who will be ready to make things happen at some indefinite time in the future. I say “No, they can have great impact today, right now” and I point to the example of the middle school kids in my film Paper Clips. And I point to the fifth grader from Massachusetts who started a campaign against testing cosmetics on animals. And Maya from Philadelphia who created this website to encourage people to consider becoming vegetarians.

Make no mistake about it: the work we’re doing with The Butterfly Project, NOT The Last Butterfly and Paper Clips has real and lasting power. As a parent said about The Butterfly Project: “It teaches the current generation not to make the same mistakes.” And as the then-principal of De Portola said about my time with her students: “I believe our school climate has changed as a result… our students are demonstrating more tolerance towards others as indicated by a decrease in bullying.”

A student and her mother paint butterflies for The Butterfly Project, several years after Paper Clips was shown at DePortola Middle School

A student and her mother paint butterflies for The Butterfly Project, several years after Paper Clips was shown at DePortola Middle School.

In a time when I worry about the future of our country more than I ever have before, having the privilege of sharing our films, The Butterfly Project and the lessons they endorse with tomorrow’s leaders is a great treasure to Cheryl, to Jan and the rest of the Education Team, and to me. Seeing children respond with compassion for others and a new resolve to be their best selves gives us hope. In a very real sense, we have the chance to counteract the erosion of the values we know are essential to a fair and just world.

We should all make the most of that opportunity. Your support for The Butterfly Project and our documentary NOT The Last Butterfly is having a great impact on the future. Thank you!

The Butterfly Project Education Team (L-R Arlene Keeyes, Co-Founder Jan Landau, Sonia Fox-Ohlbaum) in front of one of the butterfly murals at DePortola Middle School in San Diego, CA.