In February of 2010, Teddy and Lori LaRizzio of Jim Thorpe found themselves trying to pick up the pieces of their once almost-perfect lives, following the sudden, tragic death of their 22-year-old son, Adam.
Surrounded and supported by a community they loved, the LaRizzios realized there were two things important to them keeping their youngest son's memory alive, and giving back to the community that had been there for them in their hour of need.
Helping them do that were Adam's friends, who within a few short weeks of his death, pulled together an event they dubbed "Eggfest" to celebrate his life. Held at TB's 903 Pub in Penn Forest Township, over 200 people attended while four bands entertained for 10 hours. The event raised $2,500.
"Adam's nickname was Egg," says Lori, explaining that the moniker was teasingly bestowed upon him by a friend of his older brother, Jordan. "He liked the name and it stuck."
Adam loved music and was a talented and promising musician. He was outgoing and personable says Lori, and Eggfest was a testament to everything he loved, and what people loved about him.
"It was a celebration of Adam's life with music, fellowship and food," she says. "Just friends listening to bands and socializing."
Eggfest was the idea of Earl and Julie Kunkle of Jim Thorpe, who were helped by many of Adam's other friends. It was held the day before the Jim Thorpe St. Patrick's Day Parade, an event Adam loved and would never miss.
Knowing that friends who had moved from the area or were away at school would return for the parade made it the perfect weekend for Eggfest.
"Earl was one of his best friends and a brother figure," says Lori. "It was their idea to host this. The bands donated the music for free. All of them remembered and knew Adam."
Although they were still reeling from their grief, Lori and Teddy wanted to give back. They knew it would be a way to help them start to heal.
Soon after Eggest, they created the Adam LaRizzio Memorial Scholarship Foundation. Last year they gave a $1,000 scholarship to a graduating senior from Jim Thorpe Area High School.
This year, Adam's friends again came through with Eggfest, which will be an annual event. Held at the American Legion in Jim Thorpe, it raised about $2,000.
Another $1,300 was added to the fund when members of the Diligent Fire Company, in the Heights section of Jim Thorpe, hosted a Valentine's Dance. Adam had been a social member of the fire house.
In addition to random donations over the past year, Rob Kovac, the girls basketball coach at the high school, hosted an elementary school basketball tournament and donated the proceeds as well.
While presenting a qualified student with scholarship money in Adam's name is a noble gesture, the LaRizzios realized they want to do more.
With the money raised at the dance, Teddy purchased a 55-inch high definition television and the couple donated it to Jim Thorpe Area High School, where it hangs in the weight room. A custodian at the high school, Teddy's coworkers helped him install it.
"They were so grateful," said Lori. "They will be hanging a plaque in memory of Adam."
In addition to being a football player, Adam was a power lifter at the high school and would frequent the weight room.
"As much as he liked sports and all, he loved to go into the weight room and socialize," recalls Teddy with a smile. "Minimal work; max with the talking. He was a great conversationalist; he definitely was social."
Jim Thorpe Area High School Principal Tom Lesisko has fond memories of Adam.
"Adam strove to make people smile and feel good about themselves," recalled Lesisko. "Whether he used humor, a hug, or listened, he made people feel special. This included people from all walks of life and ability levels.
"The Adam LaRizzio Foundation follows the philosophy lived by Adam and by his family. The foundation will carry on Adam's drive to keep people positive about their lives and find a place where they may excel," Lesisko added.
While the LaRizzios, including son Jordan, 25, plan to focus the efforts of Adam's foundation on helping students at Jim Thorpe Area High School, it is also important to them to offer help to others who have suffered a similar loss.
Before Adam's death, Lori was a hospice nurse. Although she faced death and sadness every day, it brought her a sense of fulfillment to prepare people for their final journey, and to help comfort and support their loved ones.
In spite of being unprepared for her son's death, the knowledge of how to deal with it served her well, and helped her and her family deal with their loss.
"Teddy and I did everything you need to do to survive," says Lori, hoping to someday share that knowledge with others.
"Counseling, support groups, faith whatever that is to you, you need to cling to it. Surround yourself with positive friends you can't be around negative people."
"Friends helped us through it, without a doubt," he says. "The pain doesn't end after the funeral. Friends are even more important months later. There is nothing to say. Just be there. Sit. Cry. Tell stories and share happy memories."
Lori says they are lucky that the support of their friends never ended.
"People believe in us," she adds.
Friends like Lisa Williams, Lori's best friend since kindergarten, and others from the community where both Lori and Teddy were born and raised, came together in droves to support them.
Over 1,000 people waited in line to pay their final respects at the funeral.
Another thing that Lori credits with helping her survive such a devastating loss, is her husband.
"The biggest thing I have is Teddy," says Lori of her high school sweetheart, and the man she has also known since kindergarten.
"He's amazing. I feel bad for people who don't have that. He loved Adam as much as I did, so he's there for me.
"He's such a good person."
After Adam died, it was difficult for Lori and Teddy to return to work. It took Lori four months, and then, she found she could no longer do hospice work.
"It's just too painful right now," says Lori. "I learned a lot (as a hospice nurse). Having that background helped me a lot."
While it is too difficult for Lori to work in hospice now, she would like to use that background to help other families dealing with a similar loss.
"I would like to be able to share this with somebody who needs it," says Lori. "I'd love to help someone else, if I can."
Lori is thinking about starting a support group for people who have experienced a sudden, tragic loss.
"It was suggested by the therapist that I do that to help other people," says Lori, who is no longer in need of grief counseling.
"If a couple would approach me, I would open my home. If a need arises, I would definitely put a plan into action."
Understanding how hard it is to return to work after this type of loss, the LaRizzios also realize the financial difficulties. They are exploring ways to help others in similar situations, even if it's just paying for a week's worth of groceries for a grieving famly from money raised through the foundation.
"We're not sure what we will do yet," said Teddy. "Other families could benefit. We would like to give back."
"We want to help people," added Lori. "If we can help one this year, and two next year, imagine how it's going to grow."
To allow them to accomplish more, the LaRizzios plan to change the name of the foundation from the Adam LaRizzio Memorial Scholarship Foundation to the Adam LaRizzio Memorial Foundation.
They will continue to award a scholarship, but in order to help more people, the amount has been changed to $500.
Those wishing to learn more about Adam and the LaRizzio family can visit Lori's blog at http://adamsmom57.blogspot.com/.
To contact the LaRizzio family send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.