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7th Annual Celebration of Life for Nick Fagnano, Victim of Venice Beach Lightning Strike

Friends and family gathered for the Thrive in Joy Nick Fagnano Foundation 7th Annual Celebration of Life at Venice Beach on July 26 (photo from Thrive in Joy Foundation)


Last Monday, July 26, the Thrive in Joy Foundation (TJNFF) held its annual celebration at Driftwood Beach in Venice to honor the memory of Nick Fagnano, the 20 year old who grew up in Windsor Square and was tragically killed in a lighting strike on Venice Beach on July 27, 2014.

“It was a beautiful day and we had a wonderful turnout…maybe our biggest heart on the beach yet!” Mary Fagnano, Nick’s mom, and co-founder and Executive Director of the Thrive in Joy Nick Fagnano Foundation, told the Buzz. “Nick’s spirit shined throughout the day.”

Nick’s friends, family, volunteers, and those whose lives have been affected by the work of TJNFF gathered together to remember him and the work of the foundation established by his parents Mary and Jay Fagnano to honor their son’s vibrant spirit and contagious energy, and to encourage character development and a passion for service in young people.

“The theme of this year’s Celebration of Life is #BackTogether4Nick,” said Mary Fagnano. “In addition to remembering Nick and the lives of other young loved ones who have passed, people tell us that they love coming together in community each year to be reminded of how precious each moment is and the importance of community. The events of the past 18 months, the pandemic and society’s greater awareness of injustices, gives this year’s gathering even greater significance as communities reassess their priorities.”

In her remarks to friends and family, Mary Fanango explained the vision of foundation:

“Nick’s joy has inspired my journey these past 7 years as I continue to quote the essay he wrote in college titled the Reality of Heaven where he stated, when I go to heaven, I expect to feel joy, gratitude, and excitement as I’ll finally be reunited with the loved ones I’ve lost on earth.  I don’t know why they say rest in peace when people die, perhaps a phrase such as Thrive in Joy best describes how I want to spend eternity. 

I never imagined I’d be the Executive Director of a nonprofit. But I attribute my inspiration to Nick’s perseverance at 13 years-old when he organized that baseball equipment drive for kids in the DR.  His perseverance then inspires me now to keep going as I wear many hats as Thrive in Joy’s only full-time staff member.”

“The miracle is that the ripple effects of Nick’s life continue so strongly even 7 years since his passing,” Fagnano told the Buzz.

Thrive in Joy has two key initiatives inspired by Nick’s legacy: support for vulnerable children in the Dominican Republic and the C11 Strength of Character curriculum for high school students.

“Thrive in Joy’s C11 Strength of Character program is having a wonderfully positive impact on teens and it’s continuing to expand,” Fagnano said.  “We hope to resume our trips to the Dominican Republic in November after a 2-year hiatus due to COVID-19 but in the meantime, a new preschool has been under construction and is scheduled to open in September for 90 children in an extremely underserved community in Santo Domingo.”

Inspired by a baseball equipment drive for children in the Dominican Republic that Nick organized when he was 13 years old, Mary and Jay made a trip to the DR to work at a school and orphanage a few months after Nick passed. That first trip led to 11 more with teams of volunteers. Today the foundation supports a preschool in an extremely underserved community in Santo Domingo, and also provides funding for young adults from low-income DR communities who are pursuing their college degree or a trade while giving back to their community through service work.

To further expand the impact of the foundation, TJNFF is currently developing, and piloting C11, a strength of character curriculum intended to become a national program. C11, initially launched in partnership with the Los Angeles chapter of Multiplying Good Students in Action, was implemented at its first high school, USC Hybrid High, in South Los Angeles, in 2019 and will be expanding to at least two more Los Angeles high schools this year. Additionally, a two-session student athlete program, in partnership with SRM Real Estate Group, is being offered to 13–18-year-old student athletes. C11 is offered free of charge thanks to the generosity of donors and grants such as the USC Good Neighbor Fund.

“C11 was inspired by 11 of Nick’s character traits-humility, honesty, humor, perseverance, perspective, spirituality, teamwork, zest, love, kindness, and gratitude,” said Fagnano. “During the pandemic, we’ve seen the program give students much needed support and inspiration during a most challenging time, and that has been rewarding. We’ve also spent the past year working with experts in the fields of positive psychology and social emotional learning to provide additional validation to further enhance the program’s intent and impact.”

A video of this year’s celebration can be viewed at


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Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the 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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  1. Thank you so much for this beautiful article, Patty! It was well worth the wait and perfectly captures all that we want people to know about how Nick’s legacy lives on and how there is such supportive and ever-growing community that comes together because of how Nick lived those short 20 years of his life. Jay and I, along with TJNFF’s board are so grateful to you! XO❤️


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