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NNY native’s ‘Napkin Notes’ are food for the soul

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PORT LEYDEN — A Port Leyden native and cancer survivor is spearheading a movement intended to improve parents’ connections with their children, one napkin at a time.

“As a dad, this is really important to me,” said W. Garth Callaghan, who is sharing his “Napkin Notes” philosophy through several digital formats, including Facebook.

Mr. Callaghan, 44, a 1987 graduate of South Lewis Central School, Turin, who now lives near Richmond, Va., with his wife, Rissa, and daughter, Emma, began writing short notes on the napkins he sent with his daughter’s packed lunch when she was in kindergarten.

“I’ve been writing napkin notes to my daughter for a long time,” he said. Emma is now an eighth-grader.

Mr. Callaghan, the son of Jeanne Callaghan, Port Leyden, and the late Stephen Callaghan, said his notes have begun to focus on more specific issues, like sports, as his daughter has gotten older, although many are general.

“One of my favorites is, ‘Don’t forget to be awesome,’” he said.

However, they took on even greater meaning when he was diagnosed with kidney cancer in fall 2011.

“My first diagnosis was grim,” Mr. Callaghan said, noting he was initially given only a year to live.

The tumor was successfully removed in December 2011, but Mr. Callaghan soon afterward noticed his daughter ripping that day’s napkin.

As it turned out, she had been saving his notes in a notebook, and that discovery prompted him to begin taking pictures of the napkins for posterity’s sake before placing them in his daughter’s lunch.

In August, Mr. Callaghan created a “Napkin Notes” page on Facebook to begin sharing his catalogued notes with others.

“I want this to be easy for parents,” he said.

With parents often finding it difficult to spend as much time with their children as they would like, sending notes provides additional time for both parents and children to think about each other, Mr. Callaghan said.

“It creates that connection,” he said. “It’s really powerful.”

Napkin notes can even be used by parents of younger children who can’t read yet, since they can draw pictures or use simple words and use the notes as a learning experience, Mr. Callaghan said.

“It doesn’t have to be a paragraph worth of notes,” he said.

While initially expecting his notes to be used mostly by fathers, Mr. Callaghan, whose career has been based in sales and marketing, said that more than 85 percent of followers on the Facebook page are women.

He also got a first-hand look at the potential impact when meeting a job recruiter about a month ago.

The man was a follower of the Napkin Notes Facebook page, and he proved it by going to his car and pulling a napkin from his daughter’s lunch box with an exact quote Mr. Callaghan had posted the previous weekend, Mr. Callaghan said.

“To me, that just tells me what I’m doing does resonate with parents,” he said.

Mr. Callaghan’s message has started to spread more quickly in recent weeks after he was featured in a late September story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and that has led to recent discussion of the movement with a representative of a large Mormon blog in Utah.

“It’s starting to spread,” he said.

The Port Leyden native said he is not looking at the movement as a money-making venture but as “something that is bigger than me” that may ultimately be self-perpetuating.



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