SUFFERN, N.Y. -- Since its inception in 2010, the Suffern-based Vincent Crotty Memorial Foundation has stayed true to its core mission to provide financial support to organizations, families and individuals in and around the region.
The difference over the past six years, however, is that an organization that arose from an emotional response to the tragic deaths of two young men has become steady, sophisticated and entrenched.
Lizanne Fiorentino, a long-time Crotty Foundation board member, remembers the group’s first “Wing Nite,” a fundraiser that occurred a little over two months following the March traffic accident that claimed the lives of Vincent Crotty, 18, and his best friend, Christopher Konkowski, 17. They were seniors at Suffern High at the time of the crash as well as teammates on the varsity baseball team on their way to baseball practice. Vincent was also a basketball standout at Suffern High School.
““We’re committed to this. We want to keep Vincent’s memory alive." -- Lizanne Fiorentino, Crotty Foundation Board Member
“It gave us a purpose, a way to channel this palpable pain and grief,’’ said Fiorentino, whose daughter -- now 22 -- was Vincent’s girlfriend at the time. “It just sort of gave everyone a place to go, smile and share memories and bond together as a community.”
The Foundation’s Wing Nite -- this year’s event was held on June 4 -- is one of its signature events. Next up is its annual Softball Tournament on Aug. 11 to Aug. 13. Sixteen teams battle for the championship trophy. The Foundation also receives donations throughout the year.
"I think it was helpful that the Foundation was established early on, it helped provide a positive purpose,’’ Fiorentino said. “But this is a resilient community, and there would have been a healing process eventually. It was comforting to have had that positive and uplifting event that first year, but I almost feel like it’s become more significant as the years have gone by. In the beginning, the kids were still in school, now most of them have graduated and moved away. This event remains year after year as something to re-connect us as a community.”
In 2016, the organization awarded more than $6,000 to high school seniors. Last year, recipients of donations from the Foundation included the Suffern Fire Department, the Suffern “DARE” Toy Drive for needy children, a local family with funeral costs for a child, Squire’s Gate residents for refurbished basketball courts at Donna Hallett Memorial Park and a whopping $7,000 donation to Touching Bases, a program in Rockland County for handicapped and special needs adults. The Foundation donated more than $40,000 last year alone.
Fiorentino gives Vincent’s parents, Peter and Jean, a lot of credit for the Foundation’s success. “They go above and beyond in working and organizing, and keeping it in the forefront,’’ she said.
The Suffern community, also very quickly embraced the organization and its mission. Fiorentino believes that’s because Suffern is tight-knit, and pulls together in challenging times.
“We’re committed to this,’’ Fiorentino said. “We want to keep Vincent’s memory alive. When we do something, we’re all in and give it everything we have.”
The Foundation’s initial Wing Nite may have been an emotive response, but over time the board and community volunteers collaborated to establish an organization that has focus and purpose.
“I don’t think we had a game plan initially,’’ Fiorentino said. “That came a little bit later. Because we’ve been able to do so many good things, we’ve even been able to branch out a little bit.”
She recalls Vincent as a genuine, sweet, respectful young man with a bright future. He was a junior when he started dating her daughter. “When they first got together, we were of course nervous,’’ Fiorentino said through a broken heart and tearful eyes. “We were just being protective parents. It didn’t take him long to work his way into the family. I could not have asked for a better first love for my daughter.”
The Foundation might be the only positive development from the dreadful March morning that broke the hearts of many. Suffern has nearly 11,000 residents and nearly 1,400 high school students, which might be the primary reason for the Foundation’s success. In a small town, everyone pulls together during hard times. Not every community is as fortunate.
“It’s a very different feel now when we’re planning Wing Nite,’’ she added. “We’re not stumbling along in a fog. We’re planning, doing, working, but, when I go back to my quiet place, I remember why we’re doing this. You reflect on why you’re doing this and it brings you back six years.”
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