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Furby Inventor Fuses Passions to Help Children

Highland Park toymaker becomes chairman of Starlight Foundation.

Children’s happiness has been a driving force in  life, from the time he started working in retail while in high school through his recent selection as chairman of the Starlight Foundation. 

After a career in the toy business where his creativity delighted youngsters with such hot-selling items as the Furby, the 25-year Highland Park resident is only the third chairman in Starlight’s 30-year history. 

Showbiz connections

The Starlight Foundation has “been dedicated to improving the quality of life for children around the globe with chronic and life-threatening illnesses and life-altering injuries by providing entertainment, education and family activities that help them cope with the pain, fear and isolation of prolonged illness,” according to its website. 

The foundation's connection to celebrities, including and , and companies such as Disney Corp. have helped Shiffman with both his career and efforts to develop charitable giving to benefit children. 

Saxophonist Dave Koz, a Starlight trustee and four-time Grammy nominee, is just one of the people who are thrilled that Shiffman is stepping into the chairmanship. Koz is one of the organization’s global ambassadors along with Jamie Lee Curtis, Tony DiTerlizzi and Bob Saget.

“As a longtime Starlight supporter and trustee, I am beyond thrilled to see Roger take the helm,” Koz said. “A man with a bigger heart, I don't know."

A young toymaker

Shiffman, 58, worked full-time while earning his degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. It was in those early years that he first became involved with toys as a businessman and helping children. 

“One of the departments I was responsible for was toys,” Shiffman said. After graduation he became a toy wholesaler. Then his career took off. “I had an epiphany electronic toys were the future.” 

Not long after, Shiffman got together with Randy Rissman of Glencoe to start Tiger Electronic Toys. During that time, the company produced toys associated with sports stars like Jordan and Larry Byrd, when they were players in the NBA. There were also efforts with movies such as Home Alone

It was Shiffman’s relationship with Jordan that first got him involved with Starlight. At the time, the Chicago Bulls’ star was actively granting wishes for Starlight, doing what he could to brighten the lives of children with serious diseases.

“I met some people through MJ [Jordan] who were involved with the Chicago chapter [of Starlight],” Shiffman said. “I always liked children’s charities. I got involved with the local board and eventually [the] headquarters in California.” 

Game stations

At that time, one of Starlight’s major programs was granting wishes to children with serious challenges. During Shiffman’s time on the national board, it grew to do much more. Some of the growth has come directly from his efforts. 

“Carol [Roger’s wife Carol Shiffman] and I gave game stations to hospitals throughout the world,” Shiffman said. “They roll right up to the bed. It has a flat screen TV built in so they can watch movies and play games.” 

On Aug. 3, Gloria Didden, 8, of Glenview was the beneficiary of one of the Shiffman's gifts while recovering from surgery at NorthShore Evanston Hospital.

“Playing the Wii was awesome and cool,” Gloria said about having the video game available. 

After many years on the national board including time as vice chairman, Shiffman is now tasked with developing Starlight further. He wants to take its already pre-eminent position in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan and increase it in other parts of the world. It is the largest granting charity in Great Britain, he said. 

Shiffman expects his efforts with Starlight to consume much of his time in the near future. He plans to add corporate partners, increase international awareness and further develop the organization’s volunteer network. 

“I’m eager and committed to adding corporate partnerships,” Shiffman said. “That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going use my connections to start with and have meetings in New York and Chicago.” 

Where kids can be kids

Building awareness of the organization is also on his agenda. He intends to develop financial contributions and persuade more people to offer their time. 

“We have over 10,000 volunteers worldwide,” Shiffman said. “This is tremendous when coupled with our 100 employees around the world. You can see how important they [the volunteers] are for us.” 

Another effort for Shiffman will be making a child's hospital stay a little more pleasant. Starlight has been developing playrooms in hospitals throughout the world.

“Kids can be kids in there,” he said about the playrooms.

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