The indomitable Mary and Jay Fagnano delighted friends and supporters of their foundation last month with a festive barbecue debuting Thrive Kitchen’s latest food concept, “Rack n’ Roll Ribs,” a new delivery-only brand extension of Thrive Kitchen LA, set to launch in mid-September, at the home of John and Gill Wagner in Windsor Square. Thrive Kitchen, Jay Fagnano’s latest iteration of his popular catering business, derives its name from the Thrive in Joy Foundation he and his wife Mary founded in honor of their son Nick, who was tragically killed eight years ago in a lighting strike at Venice Beach.
The barbecue event was more than a tasting; it was also an opportunity for the Fagnano’s to tell friends and supporters about all the accomplishments of their foundation over the past several years.
“We haven’t had a chance tell everyone the impact we have been able to have with the foundation until now,” said Mary.
Just ten weeks after their son’s passing, Mary and Jay’s journey began when they accepted the invitation of a friend to travel to the Dominican Republic to deliver laptops to underserved kids at a school in Santa Domingo. The same friend had helped their son Nick organize a uniform drive to kids in this community when he was 13. At the time, Nick and his friends donated more than 400 pounds of gently used baseball uniforms and equipment. Now Mary and Jay would be part of trip where each traveler was packing a laptop in their luggage to create a computer lab at the same underserved school. This time, they would see the school where their earlier donations had been delivered.
“They wanted us to pack the laptops in our luggage so they wouldn’t get stolen in customs. So we decided to go just ten weeks after Nick’s passing, because we thought he wanted us to make this trip,” Jay told his family and friends who were gathered for the barbecue tasting. It turned out to be a life changing trip for Mary and Jay, as well as healing one.
“We left with our laptops and had $5,000 in donations from our friends who simply wanted to support us,” said Jay. “So we deliver the laptops and we still have our $5,000, so we decided to do an extreme make over of one of the classrooms with the funds. It was incredible, the kids were overwhelmed and we decided we had to come back and do more next year.”
Crediting the inspirational leadership of his wife Mary, and the generous support of friends, Jay explained how they later organized a fundraising concert with the lead singer of the band Yellow Card, whom they got to know just by introducing themselves and explaining the band was a favorite of their son’s. The $30,000 they raised helped transform the school, and they are currently working on a kitchen they hope to see completed when they travel there this fall.
Mary explained how she created the foundation to support the school in Santa Domingo, which served as the inspiration to create a leadership program here for young people who want to make an impact on their communities. The C11 program is framed on 11 of their son Nick’s strongest character traits: gratitude, honesty, humility, humor, kindness, love, perseverance, perspective, spirituality, teamwork and zest. The curriculum was developed in partnership with Multiplying Good Students in Action, a leading national youth service and leadership development program.
In 2019, C11 piloted with 160 Multiplying Good middle school students in Los Angeles. Since then, workshops have been held at Tia Tatiana High School in the Dominican Republic and with foster teens, student groups, and high school sports teams in Los Angeles. In early 2020, they launched a weekly C11 curriculum at USC Hybrid High School, after which students formed Club Thrive in Joy.
“We reached 115 students in the fall of 2021. That has grown to 600 students, 2100 family members,” said Mary. “With the help of friends like Joe LaBrie, who serves as board chair, and our amazing board, we have hired our first staff members.”
The afternoon was filled with powerful remembrances of their son and stories of the work of the foundation.
“We see so many ways we’ve been able to make a difference that we often say, ‘there are no coincidences,’” Jay stated. Mary added, “We are continually meeting amazing people with a heart for our mission allowing us to envision expanding to more high schools through 2023.”
Mary spoke of the ripple effect of Nicks’s life connecting people who never even knew her son. Though it has been challenging for the Fagnanos to carry on without their son, they see new glimpses everyday of how he is present with them spurring on their work.
“It is my vision that young people who are inspired to become leaders today will someday lead Thrive in Joy for a new generation,” said Mary. “I invite you to help us bring our program to more students, inspire students from low income communities to recognize the important of combining education with joy, character strength and service. I eventually look forward to seeing what our effects will achieve and eventually hope to reach an infinite number of students who want to dream big and take action.”
“You have no idea how important your support is,” said Jay. “Thank you for being here to sample the food.”
The food was heartily enjoyed by all!
About Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.
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