A couple of years ago, my wife and I travelled to the Dominican Republic with my daughter on behalf of her organization, Free for Life International – an anti-sex trafficking group – along with other non profits that were there supporting several orphanages and schools on the island. During our stay there, we had the privilege of working along side Mary and Jay Fagnano.
One of my favorite times during the trip was helping Jay (a master chef) in a school kitchen, preparing and serving food to the hundreds of kids there. Their foundation, Thrive In Joy, was created to honor and remember the tragic loss of their son, Nick. As they reflect:
It all started when… Nick was 13 years old and saw a TV show about how kids in the Dominican Republic love baseball as much as he did, yet due to poverty, they make-do with sticks for bats and rocks or water jug caps for balls. At the end of his final season of Little League, Nick encouraged his teammates to donate their used baseball equipment for kids in the DR.
Following Nick’s passing, his parents, Mary and Jay, launched the Thrive in Joy Nick Fagnano Foundation with the intent to continue what Nick started in the Dominican Republic by providing vulnerable children support for their health, educational, recreational, and spiritual needs. With a commitment to travel to the DR twice a year, the Foundation also encourages others to experience the joy of service.
Nick’s life was taken on a sparkling Sunday afternoon, July 27, 2014, shortly before 3 p.m. when the Venice Beach sun was interrupted by a single cloud that delivered a rare and unexpected lighting strike just minutes after Nick entered the ocean to rinse off the sand after spending a relaxing day sitting on the beach with two friends from high school. The odds of this lightning strike on that day in that location were 1 in 750,000,000, according to experts who track this kind of thing. There was a splatter of tears from heaven and within moments the sun reappeared.
Nick’s parents formed the The Thrive in Joy Nick Fagnano Foundation to keep Nick’s light shining. Just as the sun came back out so quickly that day, Nick, too, shines on. The Foundation provides a way for all who knew Nick, and for those who never met him but are inspired by his story, to keep his positive energy having an impact in the world.
No one could have foreseen how Nick’s initial act of kindness would spark a movement that has improved the living and learning conditions for over 465 vulnerable children plus staff in the D.R. The Foundation has inspired over 120 visits by people in the U.S. to share their love with these children the Foundation serves, in partnership with Vision Trust Dominicana.