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Feature in Daily North Shore - North Shore and Chicagoland News

Feature in Daily North Shore - North Shore and Chicagoland News

Sunday Breakfast: Peach Perfect

Randi Brill; illustration by Barry Blitt

The greeting card from the teacher to one of her students is mostly purple. It’s message on the front, in a variety of colors, yellow popping as the brightest, declares, “I Believe in You!”

Right below the message is another one: “Believe in yourself.”

The recipient of the card, a boy, lived in a shelter. The teacher was unaware of the boy’s living situation. The boy kept the card. When times got tough, lonely, he looked at it and read the handwritten words on the inside.

The boy encountered the teacher a year later.

“Remember that purple card you gave me?” he said. “I still have it. It reminds me that somebody thought I mattered.”
Randi Brill likes to tell the story about the purple card and the thoughtful teacher and the grateful student. Her company, Teacher Peach, produces the cards and all kinds of other products, from welcome kits to specialized pencils to tote bags (one sturdy tote bag states, “Teach. It changes everything.”). Parents of students, or students themselves, buy the products and present them to teachers as gifts; teachers also purchase the products online (at a 20 percent discount) to inspire their students and enrich the learning environment.

Teachers feel rewarded.

Students feel blessed — because they’re learning from passionate teachers.

“How often do you hear of parents giving a gift card, just another gift card, to their children’s teachers?” Brill (Chief Peach), a Glencoe resident since 1999, says shortly after having ordered a diet cola and an egg-white omelet with mushrooms and spinach and cheddar cheese at Meg’s Café in her hometown. “Or a coffee mug that says something like, ‘’Best Teacher in the Universe’? Those aren’t meaningful gifts. We’re in the business to help people acknowledge their appreciation for teachers. We’re in the business to help teachers who too often spend their own money to buy items for their classrooms and their students.”

Teacher Peach is set to launch Teacher Peach Seeds, its not-for-profit foundation, in January. Teacher Peach, established in 2012, intends to contribute 10 percent of its sales profits to fund teacher grants designed to grow students’ confidence. Grant applications will be available in early 2017.

“Some grants,” Brill says, “will be for only $100. But $100, for many teachers, can make a profound difference for those who will squeeze every dollar to make sure its useful for his or her classroom.

“It’s the right thing to do, starting a not-for-profit commitment,” she adds.

Brill’s Teacher Peach staff numbers 12, or 68 fewer than the number of employees at her previous venture, Quarasan, a leading educational product development company. Randi was the “ra” in Quarasan. She ran it from 1982-2015.

“I loved my work, but I hated my job towards the end,” Brill, 59, says of her decision to devote full attention to Teacher Peach, beginning in ’15. “We were creating these educational programs, hardcore in nature, for clients all over the country, too far away from us. I wanted to be closer to teachers. I wanted to learn about their needs and challenges.”

Brill grew up in Pittsburgh. She was nine years old when her parents moved the family closer to Carnegie-Mellon University. The parents wanted their daughter to live walking-distance from the campus, even though Randi was probably more interested in acing fourth-grade geography and mastering hopscotch strategies than she was in coming up with an essay topic for her college application.

Carnegie-Mellon accepted Randi. Randi walked from home to lecture halls and classrooms and earned her BFA in graphic design.
Her mother, Posy, met one of Randi’s professors during a Parents Weekend. The professor told Posy, “See all of these students around you today? They’ll all be working for your daughter someday. She get things done, and she isn’t afraid to speak.”
A customer enters Meg’s Café, recognizes Brill and stops by to say hello. Brill smiles broadly, her eyes in full-twinkle mode. It’s the third person Brill had greeted in a half-hour span, not including her breakfast mate.

She takes a bite of her omelet. The conversation shifts to her family in Glencoe. The fan of teachers and the wife of Robert Zieserl, also an entrepreneur, have two daughters, a fifth-grader and an eighth-grader, each a black belt in karate.

“Each is tenacious and enterprising in different ways,” says Randi, who has two stepsons — one puts out fires as a fireman, and the other fires up grills as a chef.

“Everybody has or had a favorite teacher,” Brill says. “Who was yours?”

I mention the teacher’s name, seconds later.

“See,” Brill says. “You never forget your favorite teacher. He had an impact on you, didn’t he?”

It’s Brill’s turn to reveal her favorite teacher. Teachers, actually.
“Mrs. Massaro, Madame Gaal, Mr. Joyce, Mr. Wells, Mr. Felver,” says the avid walker and NCIS (the one starring Mark Harmon) viewer.

“Think about how many hours a teacher spends with others’ children each week,” she adds. “These are very important people in the lives of our children. They help students grow confidence. When a child is confident, the child isn’t a bully. Confidence leads to better grades, better manners, and it develops leadership. It all starts with confidence.”
Brill hands me a packed folder of Teacher Peach goodies. Hours later I open it. I see a purple greeting card. That purple greeting card.

I look at the back of it. There, near the bottom of the card, I read, “Teacher Peach! A Posy-Prose Card.”
And then there’s this, a line of six more words, in lighter type: “Because you CAN say something nice … ”

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