Memorial Golf Tournament Reflects Lauren Avezzie’s Kindness, Volunteerism and Adventuresome Spirit
Lauren E. Avezzie Memorial Golf Tournament represents a legacy
Young woman’s legacy touches many
by Stephanie Riefe
When the unthinkable happens, such as a child dying, there are two ways to proceed — stop living and slowly die yourself, or find a way to go on.
For David and Cindi Avezzie of Avon and their daughter Alison, they chose the latter when daughter Lauren Avezzie died at age 22 in 2006. They not only somehow carried on, but also created the Lauren E. Avezzie Scholarship Fund, which has given thousands of dollars to causes that Lauren was either involved with or cared about.
As the second Lauren E. Avezzie Memorial Golf Tournament approaches — it will be held September 27 at Blue Fox Run Golf Course in Avon — Mr. Avezzie talked about where the money goes and how Lauren is reflected in the various organizations. The recipients are grouped into five categories: scholarship, nonprofit, mission, education and miscellaneous.
There are two scholarships of $1,000 each and then about a dozen or so other groups receive between $100 and $500.
It is important to Mr. Avezzie, 60, who has been a physical education teacher in Farmington for 39 years and currently teaches at Union School, that the groups selected reflect Lauren and that donors know where the money is going.
He and his family research, meet with and evaluate recipients to make sure that each one represents Lauren’s spirit, is helping others and brings honor and glory to God’s kingdom.
“Everything we do has to reflect her,” he said.
“The whole thing is that good things will be done in Lauren’s name,” said Cindi Avezzie. “It is a joy to see good being done as a refection of who Lauren was and what she did.”
Lauren graduated from Pepperdine University in 2005 with a degree in international communications and Spanish and a minor in non-profit management. She worked at the Spanish embassy in Washington, D.C., and interned at the Amazon Conservation Team, which is located in Arlington, Va. Its mission is to work in partnership with indigenous people in conserving biodiversity, health and culture.
She was about to embark on a one-year program to Chile through Harvard University called WorldTeach when, while taking a few days off, she drowned during a flash flood in the Caribbean. Her long-term goals were to return to school and earn her doctorate in Spanish and become a college Spanish professor.
One of the scholarships is for a student at the Master’s School in Simsbury, from which Lauren graduated with high honors. The scholarship, to help defray the cost of private school, is for a student going into his or her third or fourth year of Spanish.
Lauren was fluent in Spanish. There were 15 applicants this year and four last year.
Another scholarship, the Lauren Avezzie Award, goes to a senior at the Greater Hartford Classical Magnet School, where Cindi Avezzie is a teacher. This designed for a student who is going to a four-year college and has demonstrated outstanding community service.
The scholarship goes toward books, school supplies and such.
In terms of donations to nonprofits, the Avezzies followed Lauren’s lead. Money goes to the Amazon Conservation Team and the Center for Multicultural Human Services, also located in Virginia, where Lauren worked as a translator for victims of violence and war crimes.
“We all remember Lauren fondly and miss her deeply. Lauren was the most extraordinary intern in the history of ACT: bright, curious, friendly, sweet, smart, funny — unfailingly kind and helpful. We will forever miss her,” said Mark Plotkin, president and co-founder of the Amazon Conservation Team.
“Lauren Avezzie was certainly a very bright light during her brief time with us at the Amazon Conservation Team,” added David Stone, director of information at ACT.
“What I remember most about her was her extraordinary reaction to all of the steam-coming-out of-one’s-ears bustle that is the daily experience at almost any small nonprofit; an authentic laugh and wide smile that, rather than being the usual human attempt to calm one’s jangled nerves, seemed intended to say you’re here, I’m here, and boy aren’t we sharing this moment in all its fascinating oddity.
“I think Lauren was genuinely what she always appeared to be — a happy and open-hearted person who wanted everyone else to feel as comfortable in their skin as she did.”
Donations also go to Hearts of Hope, a support group that was started by Cindi Avezzie for mothers who have lost a child. The faith-based group, which now numbers 30, received funds for books and other materials, as well as to bring in speakers.
The fund also gives out Christmas gifts to children who would otherwise not have any, sponsors two teams from Hartford during Hoop It Up (national three-on-three basketball tournaments), something Lauren played in and used her money to support.
Money is also given to the Connecticut Food Bank and to the Deacon Fund at the Valley Community Baptist Church in Avon. The fund helps to provide Thanksgiving Day baskets of food to people in the Hartford area.
“That was one of the concerns she had,” said Mr. Avezzie of his daughter’s thoughts of those who were hungry.
As for missions, the fund makes a donation to Africa Inland Mission, Life Bridge in New Hampshire for troubled teenagers, Youth Challenge of Connecticut in Hartford and Hartford City Mission, an organization for Hartford youth.
The Avezzies don’t just stop with writing a check, though. They often check in with the groups to see the money at work.
The donation to Hartford City Mission enabled 30 teenagers from a Hartford youth group to attend a weekend retreat where they participated in community-building activities, sports, Bible studies, camp fires and one-on-one time with the adult chaperones. Mrs. Avezzie was there.
“I saw first hand how the teens responded to the scripture, change of scenery, the speaker’s message, all that fresh air and the positive attention from the chaperones and student leaders,” she said.
“Afterward, the kids keep thanking Dave and me over and over for the opportunity to be at such an exciting weekend.”
Lauren’s fund will sponsor a child through World Vision, something the Avezzies have done; the child is now 14. A donation is also made to the National Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks because the organization supports a variety of charities.
As a way to pay back the community that has given so much to the family — and to have fun — the fund sponsors the Lauren Avezzie Fun Run at Union School.
In terms of educational support, the fund bought the curriculum for the Hartford Public School’s law and government academy, which includes involvement in civic organizations by the students.
“We’ll also support a field trip for them,” said Mr. Avezzie.
At the Classical Magnet School, the donation allowed a history class to attend a multicultural field trip that included a visit to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in New York City.
The fund also gives to Character Counts, a reading program, as well as miscellaneous donations to help students go on field trips or bring speakers to a school.
Because the fund is not an official non-profit foundation as such, there is some leeway. Mr. Avezzie can answer his phone and receive a request for money to help a child buy clothes and say yes on the spot.
Things have to be a bit more formal if the organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, but for now, being able to help someone immediately is something he enjoys. “That’s one of the great parts of this,” he said. He is confident Lauren would approve. “She would love that,” he said.
At Union School, the family has also started a section of the library that will be dedicated to Lauren. Like the scholarship fund, the library was started in response to the generosity of others. The fourth grade class at the school gave the Avezzies a plaque in honor of their daughter, as well as many books. What were they to do? They decided to start a library section dedicated to her. When Lauren died, John Carmon of Carmon Funeral Home asked the Avezzies if they’d like to start a scholarship in Lauren’s name. Yes was the answer they gave in the haze of their grief. It was opened at Farmington Savings Bank and when Mr. Avezzie went to have the account transferred so they could give out the money, there was about $15,000. He thought there was going to be a few thousand, but with that much money, they could give to more organizations. “We just felt like we had something special here,” said Mr. Avezzie. “It’s a privilege really.” The golf tournament grew out of that desire to do more of the good works Lauren wanted to do in her life. Last year there were about 100 participants in and $17,000 was raised. This year they expect 150 golfers and to raise even more money; $10,000 has already come in.
“Having so many folks support this year’s tournament is such an encouragement to me,” said Mrs. Avezzie. “I know that Lauren would be pleased to see funds raised so that lives could be touched in positive ways in her honor.” Mr. Avezzie said the family doesn’t want to handle much more money, nor are they trying to raise thousands more. They want to keep things manageable for themselves. They also are keeping things real when it comes to the memory of their daughter. “We’re not trying to build a shrine to Lauren,” he said. He seems grounded in his perspective. Lauren was a daughter, sister, friend and mentor. He said if you met her once, she made you feel that she was the lucky one to know you, and if you met her twice, you had a friend for life. She loved God and others freely. She was full of life and had many gifts, but she wasn’t perfect, he added. In researching the groups with which his daughter was associated and cared about, he has gained an even deeper understanding of her. “Lauren knew who she was and what she wanted at an early age,” he said. Much of what she wanted was to help others and to make the world a better place. “Lauren loved life and wanted to embrace it,” he said. Mr. Avezzie does not want anyone to join the club he is part of, people who have lost a child. But out of this tragedy has come some amazing moments. He has heard from countless people who knew Lauren; some went to school with her or worked with her. Professors, friends and co-workers came to her service. The family received cards from people they never had met and they appreciated them all.
“You just don’t take that for granted,” he said of all the kindness the family has been shown.
Then there are the donations that created the fund and keep it going.
“It’s not me. It’s nothing we did,” he added.
It is because of the kindness of others that any of this exists, Mr. Avezzie said. He is grateful to the communities of Farmington and Avon, as well as many others, for showing such warmth and generosity.
“It is exciting to see our friends and family come together to work toward the tournament’s success,” said Mrs. Avezzie. “My heart overflows with appreciation for our community’s support and kindness as I continue on a grief journey with my husband Dave and daughter Alison.”
Mr. Avezzie also commended the committee that is helping with the golf tournament. He is aware that golf tournaments are not unique and that businesses as well as residents are being pinched by the economy. He will write thank-you notes and explain where the money goes to every donor.
“Although I didn’t know Lauren personally, my family has know Dave Avezzie for many years,” said Ellen Siuta, who is on the golf tournament committee.
“He was my husband’s baseball coach in high school and has been a beloved gym teacher to my four sons at Union School. Dave is the type of person you feel lucky to have in your children’s lives,” she said.
“He’s one of the funniest, kindest and caring people I know and I immediately jumped on board when he told me about the golf tournament. I feel like I’ve gotten to know Lauren through helping out and it’s been very rewarding for me to help Dave keep Lauren’s memory alive and continue to support all the wonderful organizations that she was passionate about.”
People can either play golf or make a donation. There are plans to start a web site as well, Mr. Avezzie said.
Alison, 26, who lives in Massachusetts and works for Arnold Worldwide in Boston, has done the graphics for the event. Despite all the good that has come out of the golf tournament and scholarship fund, the fact remains that their loss is forever.
None of it replaces Lauren.
“We miss our child,” said Mr. Avezzie.
For more information about the golf tournament or the scholarship fund call Mr. Avezzie at 839-4028 or e-mail [email protected]. To learn more about Hearts of Hope call Cindi Avezzie at 839-4030